Tag Archives: soho

Just Suppose…

Just Suppose…

 


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Geoff MacCormack


“As I remember, David and myself were fairly wired, yet this shot belies this…”

Just suppose that your Brilliant Pal, David Bowie that is, said to you: “Will you join my band (The Spiders from Mars) and come on a tour? And would you mind awfully if we travelled (first class) by sea to New York, and then sailed from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Canada, Hawaii and on to Japan? And then, from Japan to Siberia, through Russia (on the Trans-Siberian Express) to Moscow (for the May Day Parade), Poland, East and West Germany, and arrive in Paris just in time for tea at the George V Hotel? Followed by a relaxing holiday in Rome, just to chill out?”

Geoff MacCormack (aka Warren Peace) was asked just that. And then, just suppose, when you thought all the fun had finished, your Brilliant Pal said: “Would you mind being a dog (Diamond), and coming back to New York on an even better ship, eating caviar every day and joining another band, then another band, helping out on a few albums (six), and generally hanging out and having the time of your life for a couple more years? Suppose all that happened… Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have kept a photo or two?

geoffmaccormack.com

@geoffmaccormackcollection

James Jonathan Turner

James Jonathan Turner


Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman


“Dressing well shouldn’t be elitist. It should be accessible to all…”

James Jonathan Turner was born and bred in the capital; he’s that rare thing – a genuine Londoner. When we meet, he’s impeccably dressed, as ever, just as you’d expect from a gentleman whose knowledge of men’s style is second to none. His distinctive approach to clothing feels like something elegantly plucked from a previous century –and his care and attention to detail is what shines through in his has work as a tailor and designer. As we sit by the canal in the blazing early autumn sun, before taking a walk towards Islington, we talk clothes and style, inspirations from the past and aspirations for the future.

You’re a Londoner – tell me about your upbringing in the capital.

I’m was born and raised in the East End. We lived in Poplar, Bethnal Green for a while, and then Hackney. Generally, when I was growing up, in a certain class, people wanted to groom and present themselves in the best way that they could do. Kids were dressing preppy. I guess the music was different back then too in the 1990s. Given the musical influences at the time, there was more emphasis on tailored clothes and generally dressing the part.

What did clothes mean to you growing up, and how did they define you?

Clothes were important to any working class youngster. I remember if my tie wasn’t tied properly, or my shirt wasn’t perfect, my mum would give me a clip around the back of my head. I didn’t want to look the way I felt. When I was growing up, kids respected aesthetics much more and valued it. You always made a real effort to not look like where you were from. Today, I’m confused. I sometimes feel like young kids consider it a badge of honour to dress as scruffy as possible.

How important was London to the way you saw the world?

London has always been everything to me – still is. It’s the centre of my life. It’s changed in a way that you can’t deny. It’s evolved, it’s advanced, and moulded itself to each era. It’s my home and it’s where I’ve learnt my trade.

How did you come to work as a tailor? 

Tailoring, for me, was an amalgamation of a lot of things coming together. I’m a traveling tailor. Initially it was music, especially jazz, that influenced me. Secondly, it was cinematography and a string of film references. Figures such as Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart really made an impression on me. I loved their look, their style – everything. I mean, how couldn’t you? I suppose you could call it elegant masculinity. I knew that it was clothes I wanted to get into. I guess I just didn’t know which route I’d take.

How would you describe your own style? What are your personal influences?

My style? Ivy. Jazz. Classic. It’s a mixture of things. As I said, classic Hollywood and jazz influenced me, but also the music of the 1990s when I was growing up. In terms of the modern brands I gravitate towards – and I don’t say this just because I work for them, but because I truly believe it – Private White VC is one of the best menswear labels on the market today. Everything they produce is made in Britain. It’s minimalist and stripped back. They produce clothing for the modern man, which is made to last.

When you piece together an outfit, what does it say about you?

I’m a big believer in dressing appropriately. Today I’m wearing a suit, because I knew it would be right for our meeting. I think style is style, but you have to make a certain amount of effort. I don’t like to make statements with my clothes; I like clothes to speak for themselves.

 

Which parts of Central London resonate with you the most and why?

Jermyn Street, in Mayfair, and Soho have always felt important to me. Soho and Mayfair have both changed so much, but they still remain quintessentially London. Central London has evolved and grown, and somehow kept some of its defining characteristics; it’s lost some, too, but it’s retained its spirit.

Tell me about your earliest memories of the area.

Coming into the centre of town always felt like a big day trip when I was young. It was always a big day out. We’d pass through parts of Soho, down towards Drury Lane. It felt like a million miles away from the East End, and always made an impression on me as a place I wanted to be.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I want to be bold: I intend to grow what I’ve learned as a tailor and launch my own brand. I suppose I like the idea of starting something that is available to everybody. I believe that right now there is a real gap in the market for mid-century-style tailoring. Dressing well shouldn’t be elitist. It should be accessible to all; and that, for me, means producing ready-to-wear garments and not just limiting myself to made-to-measure and bespoke.

@jamesjonahant

The Lighterman

The Lighterman


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me…”

If you visit Granary Square, just over the Regent’s Canal from King’s Cross station, you will come across The Lighterman, a very modern venue for eating and drinking. The name was inspired by the neighbourhood’s industrial past, when Victoria Lightermen worked on flat-bottomed barges known as “Lighters”, on the canals and rivers of London. Located on Regent’s Canal, The Lighterman looks over Granary Square and offers stunning views across the canal and towards King’s Cross. I talked to chef Tom Kelleher, who tells me the story of The Lighterman and his role in commanding this fast-paced dining environment.

There’s something about The Lighterman that gives it the feel of a 21st century European villa. Perhaps it’s the way the glass-encased space allows the light to stream through it, a rarity almost anywhere in London. Whether at the height of summer or the middle of autumn, the views from The Lighterman’s wraparound terraces are unparalleled. Comprising a pub, a dining room and a bar, The Lighterman opened its doors in summer 2016 and has become a prominent fixture in the area. Founders Open House have allowed their openings (The Lighterman, Percy & Founders and The Larder) to evolve naturally as local restaurants, bars and hangouts in the neighbourhoods in which they are based. Percy & Founders, for example, is in an equally appealing location, located less than five minutes from Oxford Street; it offers a carefully crafted addition to Fitzroy Place with a beautiful outdoor terrace that is a welcome haven from the busy streets of Central London. Its dining room is situated adjacent to the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel, with views of the surrounding square.

Since its opening, The Lighterman has become the pub and dining room of King’s Cross, offering all-day food and drinks from morning coffee and breakfast to lunch, dinner and evening drinks. Food is fresh and seasonal, with much of the menu sourced locally or from the very best of British suppliers: meat makes its way down from the Lake District, and fish comes from the Maldon-based speciality smokehouse Lambton & Jackson.

The Lighterman has continued to evolve its menus and extend its private hire opportunities. Since joining Open House in January this year, chef Tom Kelleher has been dividing his time between The Lighterman, and Fitzrovia’s Percy & Founders. “It has given me the opportunity to constantly challenge myself and help to curate the menu offerings of both sites,” he says. Tom first found his way into the kitchen as a youngster growing up in Portsmouth, and names his mother as his key inspiration. “I was one of many children, and my mum was always cooking. She had a very nifty approach to it. Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me – I felt part of a team, I guess. I definitely feel more comfortable in a kitchen environment than anywhere else!” he laughs.

With 19 chefs spread over two kitchens, The Lighterman is Open House’s busiest location. All food is fresh and produced on site, just as it is at Percy & Founders. “At Percy & Founders, the space is divided between being an informal bar and a restaurant environment, whereas at The Lighterman, each of the three floors offers something different to the customer,” Tom explains. “This is split between a canal-side bar on the lower ground, a more brasserie feel approach on the ground floor, and a restaurant up on the first floor.” Tom helps lead The Lighterman and Percy & Founders through the seasons, curating the menu offerings and building the teams; and in the end, it’s team spirit that ensures the success of the whole venture. After all, Tom’s key influence in the kitchen has always been family.

thelighterman.co.uk

@thelightermankx

Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding


Words Robert Chilcott

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth…”

The husky, seductive voice is unmistakeable after all these years: no one else sounds like Fenella Fielding, who remains a unique and much-loved figure of British stage and screen. You can hear for yourself: she’s currently reading her memoirs at a Saturday matinee residency at the Phoenix Artist Club on Charing Cross Road.

Fenella’s first credited television role was as a lady of the night in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre in 1957, ‘The Magnificent Egotist’, now missing and the tape presumably wiped. “I didn’t have very much to do, but I had a lot of hanging round. Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth… It was a very distinguished director… I can’t remember his name. Everybody in it was terribly important, except for people like me who were totally unknown. Rupert Davies – he was the leading man – swept me up in his arms and carried me across the room. As he got to the door he banged my head on the frame. But I thought it doesn’t matter. I was still in one piece, and I had a lovely time!” That same year Fenella had a part in three episodes of a TV police show called Destination Downing Street. “I can’t remember anything about it at all,” she confesses.

Her first memories of Soho date back to her time at drama school in the 1950s. “It was like going abroad. It was wonderful! All these different shops – all foreign, with huge cheeses and racks of clothes – every different thing you could think of to buy, all pushed together. Of course, it’s a bit like that now – but not really.” She remembers The 2i’s coffee bar on Old Compton Street – where Tommy Steele was launching his career as Britain’s first teen idol in the basement – but she didn’t dare go in. “There were all kinds of naughty ladies walking around in Soho, which I thought was very thrilling”.

“There was a lovely eating place that’s still there called Mildred’s. Oh, and I liked Ronnie Scott’s, very much! I remember doing the first night of a revue. I was with my agent who said, ‘Oh, don’t let’s go to a restaurant to go over your performance. Let’s go to Ronnie Scott’s and have a lovely time.’ And so we did!” On another occasion Fenella met Jeffrey Bernard at a party, “and we started trotting about”, although she insists that their relationship was not really much of an affair, “because he was always so pissed”. Bernard, of course, took her to Soho drinking club the Colony Room. “Muriel Belcher was terrifying. I kept my mouth shut,” Fenella recalls, although she still has a memento of the Colony – she got the upright piano when it closed down.

I ask Fenella if it was Ron Moody who gave her her first break? “No, no, it wasn’t. Did he say so? Balls!” In 1954, Moody was putting on an amateur revue at the London School of Economics, where he was a student, and Fenella got a part in it, replacing a girl who had fallen ill. Soon after that, though, she decided that going on the stage was ridiculous and that she needed a job that would bring in regular money every week – so she answered an ad for an apprenticeship at Robert Fielding on Regent Street. “I came down from Edgware. It was deepest winter, bitterly cold on the tube. I came out into the snow, which was all over Leicester Square, and there was Ron. And he said, ‘You’re just the person I want to see. Remember those guys who came to the London School of Economics? Well, you can come with me now to the new Lindsay Theatre club in Notting Hill and I’ll do some sketches with you for them – the ones we did then. So I said ‘I’m ever so sorry darling, but I’ve got an appointment for an interview to work at a hairdressers shop, so I’m afraid I can’t come.’ But in the end I thought, ‘Oh what the hell, manicurist be bothered!’ So I went with him.“

In 1958, Fenella became an instant star in the Sandy Wilson musical Valmouth, and by the following year was appearing with Kenneth Williams in Pieces of Eight, a comedy revue written by Peter Cook and Harold Pinter. She was an habitué of Cook’s Establishment Club on Greek Street, where she recalls rehearsing for a show and seeing rather thickset men in belted overcoats and squashed hats walking around. “There was a gang that was quite famous at the time, the Nash Brothers, and these chaps were walking round the foyer. I don’t know if they were the Nash Brothers or if they were some other brothers, but that’s why we were a bit worried about going to do our show there. Anyway, we went on rehearsing, and the thing was that Nicholas Luard, Cook’s business partner, spoke terribly ‘like that’, very high society; and the Nash Brothers, or the something-or-other brothers, spoke very ‘like that’, very cockney. It turned out that the only place in Greek Street that didn’t have to pay protection money was The Establishment, and that was because Nicholas couldn’t understand a word these brothers were saying. And in the end the man who was trying to get the money went away in despair!”

Her film career also took off in tandem with her stage work, with notable appearances opposite Dirk Bogarde in the Doctor films. If there’s one screen role with which Fenella will forever be associated it’s that of the vampish Valeria in the 1966 Carry on Screaming, where she appears reclining on a chaise-longue and asking “Do you mind if I smoke?” as clouds of dry ice billow around her velvet-clad bust. The Carry On films – she’d earlier appeared in Carry on Regardless – were made quickly, and budgets were tight. For Screaming, she even had to pay £9 for her own ring.

Other appearances in the sixties and seventies, none of them exactly conventional ones for such a talented stage actress, cemented her cult status. She was the voice of Caroline the Cow in Anthony Newley’s television masterpiece The Strange World of Gurney Slade, and the voice of the Blue Queen in Dougal and the Blue Cat. Perhaps her most memorable, if uncredited, voice role, though, was as the Village announcer in The Prisoner. “Patrick McGoohan was simply lovely. On the day, he just came into the sound room and said ‘Don’t make it too sexy’. So I didn’t, and that was it. The mere fact of being in it was like getting a medal.” There were numerous other television appearances, including several on The Morecambe and Wise Show. “When you worked with somebody who did comedy, what they usually wanted was for you to support them but not to be funny yourself. But I found with them that they definitely wanted you to be funny – they didn’t want you to be dreary, just hanging about being a famous presence. They wanted you to be part of it.”

Fenella has also done plenty of serious theatre, from Shakespeare to Sheridan, and most notably a performance in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler that was described by the Times as “the experience of a lifetime”. “The writing in the play is so incredible, and the fact of it is that she is such a cow, such a beast, but she’s riveting. And the audience, when everything goes wrong for her at the end, they are very upset. It’s so unusual, and marvellous.”

While film roles may have been rare in recent years, Fenella has kept busy with stage, radio and recording work – including readings of JG Ballard’s Crash and T. S. Eliot’s poems. Among her more recent roles, in 2012, was a return to television in Channel 4’s Skins. “If only I hadn’t died in that episode – I would have loved to have gone on and on doing it. But they can’t bring back the dead, and that’s that!” she observes philosophically.
Fenella’s memoirs ‘Do You Mind If I Smoke?’ will be released as an audio book in May and will be available from www.fenellafielding.com. Fenella will be reading chapters live at The Phoenix Artist Club every Saturday afternoon in June, and there’s an evening show at Crazy Coqs on 11 July.

Vulgar Tongues

Vulgar Tongues


Words Cathi Unsworth

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law…”

Soho and its environs, with its hostelries, clubs, ‘vaulting academies’ and nefarious street trades, can be credited as one of the greatest sources of slang. Through its ‘rookeries’, teeming with ‘jades’, ‘footpads’ and ‘mollies’, once strolled a venerable gentleman named Captain Francis Grose. Despite the dangers around him, the Captain was on a mission – to compile a dictionary of the cant of criminals that would arm the unwary with a guide against being fleeced. His resultant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published in 1785, is the inspiration for Max Décharné’s wonderful new book, Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang.

Pictured in the frontispiece, the Captain (1731-1791) appears an avuncular cove, whose impressive girth would preclude sudden flight from menace. Which is what makes his achievement all the more impressive to the svelte and dapper Décharné, an author whose previous work includes Straight From The Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang, and a musician who fronts the cinematically noir Flaming Stars. “An artist, antiquary, ex-military man, and most of all, the kind of man you’d want to prop up a bar with, he spent many a late night on the wilder shores – and he didn’t need the protection of a detachment of soldiers, unlike Dickens half a century later,” Max says with a smile. “Two thirds of the world’s trade was coming through the Port of London in his day, and Covent Garden and Soho specialised in parting all those sailors from their money. Imagine the language that accompanied that!”

The result of years of research, Vulgar Tongues has its roots in Soho and the area’s proximity to those two pillars of justice, The Old Bailey – in Grose’s day, Newgate Prison – and Tyburn Tree. “Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law. If you hung around the late-night hostelries, this would have been a large part of the way that people talked.”

Max’s evident delight in his material stems in part from how many of these phrases have survived. “It’s incredible how 17th and 18th century London slang has spread around the world,” he says. “They were already calling a stomach your ‘bread basket’ and illicit brandy was known as ‘moonshine,’ because it was smuggled by night. My favourites are ‘fly’, (knowing, aware), which rappers are still using, and ‘shag’, which then, as now, was a slang term for a bout of horizontal athletics.”

Another form associated with Soho is Polari, the secret language of homosexuals. “It started out as showmen’s and carnival slang, with no particular gay focus,” says Max. “The Punch & Judy men in Covent Garden are quoted using it in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour & The London Poor (1851), but it only starts to be closely associated with the gay scene after World War II. Indeed, the majority of gay slang of any kind dates from after 1900, though gay men referred to each other as ‘mollies’ in the early 18th century. The high point of Polari was undoubtedly the 1960s, thanks to Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick’s radio characters Julian and Sandy and the final legalisation of homosexuality towards the end of their run in 1967.”

Kenneth Williams was a good source – “All his diaries should be required reading,” Max considers – as was another Soho face, Derek Raymond, who augmented his debut 1962 novel, The Crust On It’s Uppers, with a glossary of slang. Interestingly, some of his terms – ‘screwing’ and ‘having it off’ – had a different meaning only a few decades previously, while ‘charvering’ meant the same. “In that other fine London novel, James Curtis’s The Gilt Kid (1936), ‘having it off’ was pulling a robbery, and ‘screwing’ specifically meant burglary,” Max explains. “‘Charvering’ (having sex), however, goes back at least as far as the classic Victorian The Swell’s Night Guide (1846).”

And what of today’s Soho – will it go on providing new expressions that will be heard centuries from now? Or will it all be buried under concrete? “Very hard to say. There’s still a hell of a lot of life in Soho, but it’s heart-breaking to see how the local authorities are allowing significant sections to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Whoever’s signing off on these deals should be made to ride a foal sired by an acorn – and yes, that’s some more slang that 18th century Soho residents would have known. To give you a clue, the way to take such a ride was down the western end of Oxford Street, when pushed off a cart at Tyburn by the hangman, Jack Ketch.”

Max Décharné’s Vulgar Tongues is published by Serpent’s Tail, as is Derek Raymond’s The Crust on its Uppers. James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid is published by London Books.

Joe and Co.

Joe and Co.


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


It was 1997, and Soho was down to the roach of its truly gritty days. Joe Mills bought the lease on a debt-ridden Peter Street cobblers and opened The Lounge, his first hair salon. The door was kept locked, and female clients were chaperoned to the salon from Wardour Street. DJs, Maltese gangsters, working girls and celebrities: Joe worked his craft on all comers. Two decades later, the neon sex-shop signs may be flickering out as the sanitising hands of investors sweep old Soho away, but Joe’s light shines more strongly than ever.

With its concrete floors, chilled beer, and Playstations for the clients, The Lounge blazed a trail that others would follow, with iPads replacing consoles as the digital revolution exploded. But after twelve years of styling at the same chair, and with women gazumping men for the lion’s share of his scissor-time, Joe struck out again in 2010 with a new, dedicated barbers. Joe and Co. was born. While the mainstream renaissance in men’s barbering wove its ubiquitous tweedy pastiche, Joe and Co. cut a distinctive cloth of its own. Right down to its logo and signage, Joe and Co. riffs in a graphic, geometric style on the traditional idea of a barbershop.

It’s a riff with pedigree. After a three-year apprenticeship under Dutch New Zealander Gert Renzenbrink, Joe took a job in the oldest barbershop in the City of London, perfecting traditional barbering skills as the only young buck in a company of retired Jewish barbers. Come the early 90s, it was time for change. Joe blagged an interview with Paul Burfoot at Fish on D’Arblay Street, and turned his craft to the punky energy of the salon that gave the decade many of its eponymous cuts. It’s no surprise that the openings of The Lounge and Joe and Co. were quickly lauded by the likes of Vogue, GQ and Monocle.

An inimitable pedigree runs through Joe the man too. He claims everyday dressing is his comfort zone, but Joe’s everyday is another man’s envy. From the peppery temples and close-clipped beard to the selvedge denim and vintage Vans, he inhabits a style somewhere between Walker Evans Americana and GQ urbanity. Vintage cars, motorbikes, a touch of rockabilly that belies the 1980s Margate of his teens: they’re all layered through Joe like multiple exposures on old celluloid film.

Jamie Dornan, Russell Tovey, Zayn Malik: icons for many but a day’s work for Joe. Surprisingly, for a man with a talent for making the handsomest even handsomer, and with two legendary salons, Joe is humility itself. “If this work teaches you anything, it’s that people are people. You see people at their best, and you see them at their lowest, whoever they are. Famous or not, barbering is about working with a person, finding a mirror to their personality. A friend once described me as being a facilitator, a gentleman’s gentleman. That captures it exactly.” Visit Joe and Co. and you might find yourself seated in one of their classic Japanese barber’s chairs next to a well-known actor or the hottest young band getting spruced up ready for a tour. When the Journal photographed Martin Freeman for our third issue, he arrived freshly coiffed from Joe’s chair. It’s a democratic style that comes from Joe himself.

It’s also evident that the ‘and Co.’ is as important as Joe. “It’s the hardest thing to take creative people and help them to gel. It starts right at the beginning. It’s not about how cool you are. I want inquisitive, questioning people. And it doesn’t stop here in Peter Street. It’s great that barbers who spent time cutting and learning here at Joe & Co. have gone on to become main players at new salons like Taylor Taylor and The Lion & The Fox. The ‘and Co.’ is far bigger than me.” Speaking of ‘Co.’, Lead Barber Hayley comes over between cuts to tell us about The Spiderman. “He’s this well-known Soho character, must be in his late 40s, comes in wearing a full Spiderman outfit.” Is he some kind of performance artist? “Nah, I think he just likes the slinky feel against his skin or something. It takes all sorts.”

Does Joe think Soho is losing these characters and its own special identity as the area changes? “I have an issue with not embracing change and being blinkered about the future. No one wants the crack dens back again. Soho has to be forward-thinking and diverse. Look at Paris and its mix of old and new architecture. Great cities change. Soho is changing. Joe and Co. is part of that. When everyone went east, we stayed in Soho. We had to weather the exodus and it took a while to regrow, but we’re here for the long term. The beauty of Soho is that it will always be an interesting place. We want to bring something to the area, not take it out.”

And Soho remains a constant inspiration. “I still cut hair at every opportunity. It’s what I love. And there’s an arsenal of knowledge in everything I do. Now, it seems like everyone wants to be a barber, but it takes so much more than twelve weeks of training. Behind the technique, barbering draws in culture, film, fashion, history, street style. Soho has all these things.”

“It takes more than twelve weeks” could be Joe and Co.’s mantra. Step through the door and the salon is simple and functional in the best way. But behind each cut there are decades of history populated by gangsters, ladies of the night and latter-day matinée idols. Stories to tell the grandkids for most of us. For Soho’s finest men’s stylist? A day’s work.

Alex Zane

Alex Zane


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time…”

It’s early on a cold December morning in London. “It’s been a while since I’ve walked through Soho at this time. It’s wonderful: you get to walk about and see last night’s decadence splattered all over the pavements. The bottles being collected ring to the sound of the mischief, mayhem and dismay of a rollicking good night out on Dean Street,” says comedian and presenter Alex Zane, toying with his tie and dressed head-to-toe in Joshua Kane Bespoke. We’re sitting in Blacks Private Members Club, switching between talking about the beginnings of his comedy career and the film releases of the past year. Alex started out in Soho, performing stand-up in tiny venues where his fellow performers often outnumbered the audiences. His career may have taken off, with diverse strands in comedy and television, but this corner of London remains close to Alex’s heart.

Born and raised in Leeds, he moved to London to study medicine at UCL in 1998, intending to pursue a career as a doctor. But, finding that he enjoyed the Bohemian lifestyle, he soon decided to drop out of university and embrace a radical change of direction. Telling his parents he was about to begin performing stand-up comedy in Soho clubs and bars for bugger all money wasn’t easy, and it’s probably not surprising that at first they had little faith in his chosen path. “I owe Leeds for a large part of who I am. 2017 is the year that I will have been living in London as long as I lived in Leeds,” says Alex. “I grew up admiring the whimsical monologues of rock-star stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. I imagined that the words coming out of his mouth simply rolled off his tongue; little did I know that his style of humour was the product of scrupulous writing and planning.”

“Soho was where it all started. At this point, I was living in what was in essence a squat in Camden: a flat where when you took a shower, water streamed down the hallway. I would show up, along with other comedians, at these open-mic nights, which were mostly empty. There would always be that moment where someone would say, “So, shall we perform to each other?” And God, it was fucking awful. That was until one day I was in the right place at the right time…”

It was on Dean Street that Alex found himself an agent, on a night when comedian Ricky Gervais, in his pre-Office years, was in the audience. “It was the first time we’d met, and I just remember coming off stage thinking it had gone alright. I’d been playing around with some half-arsed joke about liking the boy band Five,” he laughs. “Quite often I’d start a joke without knowing where it would go; that was one of those that didn’t really go anywhere. Somehow, Ricky thought it was alright, and so too did the man who’s now my agent, who asked me to come for a meeting after that show.” With his stand-up career on the rise, and on the back of an introduction from Ricky, Alex got the opportunity to be a radio presenter on Xfm. “It was the graveyard shift from 2-5am. If there is ever a time that you don’t want to answer the phone in a radio studio, it’s when you’re doing the graveyard shift. The kind of people that were calling in were not the kind of people you wanted to be speaking to when you were on your own in a radio studio!” he laughs.

In 2002, Alex performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a three-man show, completely unaware that there was an MTV producer in the audience; after the show he was asked to audition for them back home in London. “A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time,” he says. “Back then – this was when video rental stores were still a thing – I was watching films day and night from my local store in Camden. I was trained in how to be a presenter by producer Rob Lewis, and ended up presenting Screenplay. It was a critical movie review show, and remains to this day one of my favourite shows I’ve ever worked on.”

Alex later began work on a pilot entitled Dude, Where’s My Movie Quiz? In essence, it was Never Mind The Buzzcocks, but about film. Sadly, the pilot never went to series, but did lead to Alex being asked by Channel 4 to join a new comedy prank show entitled Balls of Steel. “I was asked to come and do the quiz element of the show, and the rest is history. It was great fun, and a great success. I’m not one for nostalgia, but I am particularly proud of that one. However, in terms of having actual balls of steel, what I did was at the lowest end of the spectrum! It was no way near as terrifying as some of the stuff that people did on that show,” he says. Hosted by Mark Dolan, special guests would perform stunts and try and hold their nerve during hidden camera set-ups in the presence of celebrities or the public.

As well as Balls of Steel, Alex went on to host Popworld with co-host Alexa Chung, and landed a number of acting roles in films including Dawn of the Dead (2004), Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005), Land of the Dead (2005) and The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005). After a magazine interview in which he discussed his love of movies, he was approached by Sky and offered his own show for Sky Cinema, Alex Zane’s Guest List. “We’d begin each interview discussing the film the actor was currently promoting, before moving on to discuss three of their favourite films. It was basically Desert Island Discs with movies! What’s really interesting for me is hearing from these people about the films that have really framed their lives – that’s quite something,” he says. “I feel like what I’m doing right now at Sky Cinema is where I want to be at this point in my career. Getting to fly around the world and interview movie stars for a living isn’t all that bad at all,” he laughs. “I’ve had some fantastic experiences with stars all over the world. From flying in a helicopter with Hugh Jackman, to meeting Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds, and nearly dying whilst standing on top of the BFI Imax cinema with Tom Cruise. I feel very fortunate to do what I do.”

As well as his presenting career with Sky, Alex is a keen scriptwriter and has recently finished work on a new sitcom entitled Friday Night Frights. He expresses both pride and pleasure in having written the script with friend and long-term collaborator Johnny Candon. After 17 years in London, Soho is still at the centre of Alex’s life and career, with his taste for rest and recreation in the neighbourhood bringing him back to Dean Street and its surrounding watering holes on a regular basis. “It’s just been one of those places, from the moment I arrived in London, that I’ve loved spending time in,” he says. “It’s tinged with some sadness, too: the thing about Soho is that it evolves so damn quickly – much quicker than the people that make it what it is.”

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity…”

I am anything but patient, but to get into Bao I waited for 20 minutes with a can of Taiwanese lager in my hand. I’ve been watching the ever-expanding queue outside for a year now as I’ve gone up and down Soho’s Lexington Street, and wondering: what makes all these people stand in line for a restaurant that only seats 15 people and sells Taiwanese street food? Well, the answer is in the eating, as more and more people are finding out: Bao crossed the border into Fitzrovia last year, with the still fresh-faced venture opening its doors on Windmill Street to yet more acclaim.

Brother and sister Wai Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing’s wife Erchen Chang, are all under 30 and the idea of starting a restaurant came to them while were travelling together. Journeying through Erchen’s home country of Taiwan, they were inspired by the informal street food culture and culinary traditions they discovered – and that was how Bao came to be born. “We’d all just graduated, so we made the decision to travel around Taiwan together. We ate all over, and from there we were inspired to come back and start our own venture,” says Shing. “We discussed the idea of a market stall whilst travelling back to London. We thought introducing some of my home traditions, including the bao itself, on the stall could be a cool idea. It was much less risky for us to start out as a market stall in the beginning, as opposed to starting our own restaurant right away. Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity; we never planned for Bao to grow into what it has done. The initial response and attention it received was fantastic, and it was an organic progression.”

In 2013, Bao started out as a market stall at Netil Market in Hackney, and it remains a permanent fixture there on Saturday afternoons. Taking things to the next level, from stall to restaurant, Bao opened their first permanent premises on Soho’s Lexington Street in 2015. Both their Soho and Fitzrovia restaurants offer a relaxed environment, with charming yet efficient service, and the interiors bring the trio’s background in fine art to life with catchy branding. “When we opened our Soho site, we had a keen following at this point, but even on opening we didn’t know what to expect. We adapted the space to the brand, and the brand to the space. It’s a small space, and it seems as popular as ever, with customers still queuing daily to sample the menu,” says Shing. “With our Fitzrovia opening, we liked the idea of diners watching as drinks are prepared, we wanted people to be engaged with the aesthetic of the brand and feel like they’re at the centre of the restaurant. We wanted the basement to have the exact opposite feeling. We wanted to create a completely different vibe, with a tin-clad and spacey feeling to it as you look into the kitchen and watch the food being prepared,” adds Erchen.

The name Bao itself originates from their signature Chinese steamed bread roll, known as bao, which is served with a filling of meat, fish or vegetables. Their menu itself is split into four sections, focusing not just on bao but also chicken, fish and rice dishes, with special Taiwanese rice sourced from Chi Shiang, and vegetable sides. In both branches, diners order dishes via their menus on a tick-style system. But before that comes the long wait – whether on Lexington Street or Windmill Street – that can sometimes last up to 45 minutes. It’s a stretch by anybody’s standards, but there’s something about Bao that makes it all worthwhile. Of course, the food is the thing: the tantalising menu is fresh and innovative, and while it’s based on Taiwanese street fare, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries. At the same time, I can’t think of many eateries in this area of London that have matched Bao’s innovative aesthetic, and the result is a brand identity that will doubtless continue to thrive and grow. Although the three are typically modest about their baby, I suspect they take a quiet satisfaction in knowing they’ve created something really quite special. Bao has certainly added another fine food destination to the already independent-led Lexington Street; and if you haven’t already been to check it out, I can only suggest that you hurry along and join the queue.

baolondon.com

@bao_london

A Soho Squat

A Soho Squat


Words & Photography Bob Aylott


“These are iconic images from this period in London’s history”

By trade, I’m a press photographer. I discovered in my attic some months ago this vintage collection of vintage black and white images, hidden away for some years. It’s unusual to find original wet prints of contemporary historical importance. This project was a labour of love that I’d put on the shelf. I knew I had one set of exhibition prints, but I’d forgotten about the box of extra prints and was amazed to find them. Back in 1972, I explored the seedier, dark and destructive yesteryear of a Soho squat. As a personal project, I spent a year recording life in one of the last squats in this part of London. Due for demolition, the Victorian tenement in Drury Lane was a haven for London’s homeless teenage runaways, junkies, winos and street thieves, including a convicted murderer, and a baby.

These subjects lived in the most squalid of conditions, often surviving on rotten fruit from the famous market. Rape, beatings, robbery, drug overdoses and death were common in a building overrun by rodents and with no running water, sanitation or electricity. These images are particularly special because they are not only iconic images from this period in London’s history, but were also printed shortly after the pictures were made in 1972. Only one or two prints of each subject have survived. The prints are un-retouched and show abrasions that would have been on the original negative, such as dust spots and scratches.

The Smoking Guns

The Smoking Guns


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan

 

“We started something together that we were wholly in control of – it was the beginning of a new adventure.”

A transatlantic duo blazing their way through Soho’s music venues, clubs and bars, spinning Northern Soul, 60s rhythm & blues and old school rock-n-roll, Iraina Mancini and Samantha Michelle are an unlikely success story in an often male-dominated world. I talked to them about how The Smoking Guns got started, their Soho roots and the reasons behind their DJ venture.

Growing up in West London, Iraina Mancini has spent her life in the company of music. “My Dad was in a band with David Bowie,” she explains, “so I’ve always had something of a musical upbringing. He raised me on soul, and its been ingrained in me since I was a kid.” When she was just 18 she approached a band after a gig, telling them that their singer wasn’t the best and that she would make a better vocalist for the group. “I think I was very confident in those days for an 18 year old girl,” she says. “They turned around and invited me in for an audition. After that, I started a band called Mancini and toured around for a number of years, made an album and went on the road. I’ve been doing music ever since. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve become more of a songwriter for other artists. At the moment I’m recording an EP.”

Samantha Michelle, the other half of the duo, grew up in Toronto, spending much of her youth in Canada and the US, eventually settling in New York for sometime before moving to London. “Mine and Irania’s upbringings are polar opposites,” says Sam. “I didn’t grow up in a musical household at all. My father is a businessman, and my mother is a doctor. A creative life as an artist or musician was definitely not something that my family expected of me – it wasn’t a viable option. As a kid, I was always very artistically inclined. I would often paint, and I was a competitive dancer, but these were merely hobbies. I didn’t like the options that were presented to me in the world that I grew up in, so I wanted to build a new life for myself. The gateway into that for me was university. I worked hard to get into a good school, eventually studying in New York. My whole world became an incredibly different place for me as I explored the nightlife of the city, which had a strong influence over my taste in music. I felt like some of the music I was listening to was part of some kind of unspoken tribe. When I moved to London, I was instantly fascinated. It’s strange for me really, as I have no ties to the place at all, yet I’ve adopted it as my home.”

Sam and Iraina first met in Soho nearly five years ago at Dean Street’s Groucho Club. They quickly became friends, and their friendship became centred on their careers, with both of them working as actresses and DJing separately. One evening they discussed the possibility of starting their own project together. With their combined love of soul, rock and roll, and the music of the 60s and 70s, the two of them decided to pool their talents, forming The Smoking Guns late last year. “We thought maybe we could do something that we could be in control of, something fun,” says Iraina, “so we decided to DJ together. We made a pact: this time next year we’ll have really made this thing take off.”

“We were so fearless, and we believed in ourselves wholeheartedly,” says Sam. “In life, shit doesn’t go your way for whatever reason. At first it builds this distrust and lack of faith in yourself, and then something comes to you to make you realise your true potential. So together Iraina and I turned a new leaf – we started something together that we were wholly in control of. It was the beginning of a new adventure. We wanted to get to a point in our lives of primitive artistic pursuit.” And so The Smoking Guns was born. Once they’d decided to work together, Iraina and Sam wasted no time: in fact, they managed to land their first booking within five minutes. With their easy and approachable manner, perhaps it’s no surprise that the two quickly began to work with dozens of venues, particularly around Soho; and given their taste in music, The Smoking Guns carved out their own specialised niche. A female duo spinning Northern Soul, 60s rhythm & blues and old school rock-n-roll? Unheard of!

What might have been seen as a handicap in a musical scene that’s always been heavily male-dominated actually proved pivotal to their success, helping them to begin working alongside some of the most exclusive nightspots in the Soho neighbourhood, such as The Groucho Club, Soho House and Lights of Soho, with a number of weekly residencies all over London. “We were very lucky that we already had a core group of people that we’d already worked with in the past, so we had a good starting point. So much of my life has been spent here on the streets of the neighbourhood. It’s an incredibly important place to me. Its a personal experience, DJing for people we’ve grown up around and who are part of our lives,” says Iraina. “At the start, many of the people that we began working with or being booked by were people we already knew pretty well – it was a success on the back of our connection to Soho. The neighbourhood is dear to our hearts, and The Smoking Guns is a lovechild of Soho!”

What Sam and Iraina have created is refreshing and original, a shot in the arm for a music scene that has been losing some of its momentum in recent years. In just over 12 months, their friendship has blossomed into a successful musical collaboration covering all corners of Soho. Standing tall in their Joshua Kane bespoke men’s suits they give off an image of confidence and beauty that defies both expectations and odds, even in an ever changing and diversifying neighbourhood. The Smoking Guns have already begun to gain a strong following, creating a positive and uplifting atmosphere that echoes the neighbourhood’s yesteryear: crowds revel in the basement of Lights of Soho to the sounds of Bob Dylan and the Small Faces, while at the Groucho they scream with joy to the sound of The Doors and The Rolling Stones. Perhaps these two talented young ladies were destined to meet and combine to spread their musical message. As they continue to go from strength to strength, Sam and Iraina are two young guns to watch closely.

A Soho Office

A Soho Office


Words Griff Rhys Jones

Photography Archives


Some time ago, in the very early Eighties, Melvyn Kenneth Smith and I decided to go into business together. We had no idea what we were doing. Or what business to go into. We liked the idea of an office. Not the Nine O’Clock News had, I think, an audience of 18 million in one set of repeats. It was a pop phenomenon, like being a band. We were certainly arrogant, opinionated and ignorant enough to assume we could run anything. Mel and I had been producers and directors before we became performers. We were plucked from those jobs to do our party pieces on TV. This was our affinity. It bound us together. The late Harry Thompson paid us the compliment of saying, later, “you were the only ones who weren’t c*nts in the entire operation.” But then he didn’t really know us.

We were also pragmatic. I started producing commercials for the Not spin-off of records and tapes (this was before DVD). We decided we might make more, so we decided to make radio productions and we called it “Talkback”. We were starting a sketch show of our own sometime in 1982, working in the old Television Centre (the one they recently sold). The nearest place for lunch apart from a dispiriting staff canteen full of men with pints of beer was half way back to Notting Hill.

It was a round building. Once, trying to find a cup of coffee, I walked around three times before I realised it was a circle. The hutches faced out onto the central atrium. The only view out of the window was other offices full of people working. It didn’t inspire. I wanted to get back to the West End. I craved the glamour of a pub. Friends from university had a theatre promotions business with an office in the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. I suspect they needed to offset the costs so they gave us a desk and we started making commercials and pieces for Soho-based companies like Saatchi and Saatchi. After a while and a couple of jobs we moved and settled into Brewer Street.

I probably still walk past the entrance to that office every week or so. It was on the north side, down the Aquascutum end, opposite the Stone Island shop where I sometimes buy Italian football supporter’s clothing to wear on TV shows. But which walk-up was it? I can’t recall. I have forgotten to even try to remember. We took two rooms or maybe more. People joined us to write commercials. Vicki my old secretary left the BBC. We pitched to agencies and recorded in Angel Sound or sometimes on the barge in Little Venice that belonged to Richard Branson.

It was up there, on the canal, we recorded about six scripts I had written for Tim Delaney of Leagas Delaney. We were busy so we had to suggest to Tim that he joined us at around 11 at night while we “knocked ideas around”. One was a simple but alarmingly racist shop sketch. I offered the customer, Mel, who wanted a Japanese “videocaster” a “Phirrips”. Like most successful commercials it was popular with advertising people so it won a lot of awards.

But here we were in Soho. We went out to eat in Greek restaurants and could take walks peering into shops. This was before the Groucho Club had been invented. We went to basement dives called “the Marie Lloyd” to get drinks when the pubs closed. You could buy smoked eels at Hamburger Products down the other end of Brewer Street. It wasn’t White City. There were strip clubs all over the shop then, instead of just corralled down the corner of Brewer and Wardour. Meard Street was still shit street. Late at night, it was possible to walk your mother through there, trying to get to some restaurant or other, and find yourself passing several blokes pissing in the gutter and another getting a knee-trembler in the shadows. (Mothers are more experienced in life than you think though.) The French Pub was a stand-up, fall-down boozer rather than a fascinating part-gourmet eatery. The inmates turned to stare if a stranger had the temerity to march himself in. You had to sidle up to the bar.

We had a Soho philosophy. You needed nothing more than a tea chest, a cardboard box to sit on and a phone. Make money and you took home a share. It generally worked. Not everybody paid us. Our manager, PBJ, pointed out that our first big contract was not paid, six months after the job was done. I went and sat in the office of a major advertising company until I got a cheque off the boss, a now world famous PR Lord. I was pretty drunk. That seemed to help. But we moved. When? I don’t know. We went to Berwick Street. We got some sort of pokey offices out of a deal with Warner Brothers. I know we were in that street, because I recall I was once waiting for Mel. We were supposed to be back in White City, but he hadn’t shown up so I decided to get in the cab and go without him. The cabbie said he knew my voice from somewhere. “You’re Jeremy Pascal, off the radio aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well you sound just like him.”

We drove off, turned right towards Oxford Street and passed the underground car park there. The cabbie said, “Look, look there! There’s that Mel Smith off the telly coming out of the car park.”  Mel was coming out. The cabbie was clearly in awe.

I pulled down the window. “Oi! Mel!!”

The cabbie was horrified. “Don’t shout at him. They don’t like it.”

“Get in the sodding car!”

Mel got in. The cabbie shut up.

But which order did this happen in? I don’t know. I remember I got my dad’s dog run over in Soho Square. Not something you want to do. I let him off his lead to run about a bit by the half-timbered hut and he chased a pigeon into the street. It was the squealing after he got hit that was the bother. Everybody looked at me like I was a murderer. The dog survived. It got its leg in plaster from a Soho vet somewhere. By that stage, we had first floor offices directly on the corner with Greek Street – big and airy rooms, with oblong-paned Crittal windows (now replaced by an ugly bank building), overlooking the dog-desecrating square. I went up to Star Warehouse in the old railway stables at the back of the Camden market and bought a pinball machine, a pool table and an orange jukebox. We believed they were essential to creativity. They went with us on yet another move to Carnaby Street. (Or was it the other way around? I remember the toys, but not the order of moves.)

The Soho Square offices had their charms. We were once taken up to the top floor where there was a beautiful darkened flat completely panelled out in shinny yellow satinwood that had belonged to Gracie Fields. But, ah, the joy of those Carnaby narrow 17th century rooms, poky stairs and clapboarded dados. Too many of the eighties edit houses and post-production facilities were squeezed into unsuitable 18th century listed houses with netted fire doors, glass partitions and grim noticeboards, but our place remained a house, with fireplaces in every room. We were always above a shop. Carnaby Street went on up into the roof. At a party crowding up the stairs, I watched a Harbottle’s lawyer patronise an anonymous-looking man about his music. “We sometimes represent groups. What’s yours called?”

“Pink Floyd.”

Carnaby Street was pedestrianised, like now, but in a yellow and black zigzag plastic. We kept taxis permanently hovering at one end or the other, waiting to take artistes to important lunches. Gradually the pool table and the pinball machines went. There was no room for creativity. They were replaced with desks. The company was doing all right. Nobody hung out and played very much any more. Mel had the orange, Sixties bubble jukebox transported off to his place. It was mine. I paid for it. But I didn’t say anything. He’s dead now and it sits in his empty Abbey Road house. I might try to get it back. It has pictures of the two of us wearing Greek costumes under its perspex lid. I don’t remember why the Greek costumes, or the silver boingers on our heads. Those should date it, but there is now no record of that headgear craze. It was around that time we decided to move to Percy Street in Fitzrovia. This was a big place. We even had the shop, with an old plate glass window looking on to the reception area decorated with pictures bought from Rebecca Hossack around the corner. That was the end of Soho for us. When was this? God knows. Must have been the end of the Eighties. It was in many ways.

 

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I wanted to open on Berwick Street. I really believed it was the high street of the neighbourhood.”

Farringdon, Portobello, Lambeth: familiar names of London districts, but also those of a range of garments designed by Oliver Spencer, whose clothes, full of stylish accents and practical details, have earned a reputation for distinction, comfort and sheer cool. Designing and making handcrafted garments for modern men and women, Bloomsbury-based Spencer has produced his own individual take on relaxed British style, and a special relationship with the Soho neighbourhood stretching back to his youth.

Having grown up in Coventry, Oli first moved to London in the early 1990s to study art. Frustrated by the limitations of art school, he abandoned his studies and enrolled in what he describes as the University of Life, selling second-hand clothes from a stall at Portobello Market. “Lots of things happened which I would describe as being pivotal in framing where my life would go next. I learnt lots of lessons – some good and some bad,” he says. He woke up at 4.30am every day so he could get his pitch, and it was there on the market stall that his relationship with clothes really began, giving him with an enduring love of the product and a passion for shopkeeping.

Oli spent a decade creating and expanding his first venture, formalwear brand Favourbrook, during which time he designed waistcoats for the 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral and began to establish his place on London’s design map. Eight years later, he wanted to embark on a new venture with even greater ambitions – success on the global scene. His plan was to produce a range of clothing that combined the quality and craft of traditional tailoring with a more relaxed modern style. His philosophy: quality needn’t mean formality; casual needn’t mean careless. “I have a feeling towards clothing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing up or dressing down – it’s involved in every step of my life in any case,” he says. “When my customers purchase something from us, I want them to feel a sense of belonging – as if they’ve bought something that’s like their best friend… something they’ve owned forever. Every season, I strive to get there. I want to create clothes that talk to people. Most of my customers like to be seen but not heard – that’s why I don’t brand my stuff.” The Oliver Spencer label was born in 2002, and its founder’s philosophy soon found a number of adherents in the heart of Bloomsbury and beyond. Oli’s arrival in Bloomsbury came about through friend and founder of Folk Clothing, Glaswegian fashion designer Cathal McAteer. The Oliver Spencer brand first came to Lambs Conduit Street in 2007, and Oli’s store at No 62 is home to the latest collection each season, with the original surviving shop fittings making for an immaculately dressed setting.

Since launching on Lambs Conduit Street, Oliver Spencer has continued to expand across London, opening shops in Shoreditch and Soho – an area that’s been important in Oli’s own life since 1989. “I first came here with an ex-girlfriend of mine who was a couple of years older than me. At this point, I was already into fashion. It was the middle of the summer, and I was wearing an old second-hand two-piece check suit with sandals – aged 18. I remember getting some strange looks! People could see I definitely wasn’t from the area,” he says. “My relationship with Soho has always been that of a stranger really. It’s always held this awe for me – I’ve always been a bit scared of it to be honest. When I was a kid at art school, Soho was this tricky place. It felt so grown up, with so much going on all around. To a young kid, it was a bit intimidating. It was full of many different tribes, and not everybody was necessarily nice, especially if you were an outsider coming here. Everywhere you turned, there were dark streets and characters lurking. Since then, my fear has turned into a fascination. On a Friday evening, I know if I get here after 9pm, I won’t be home until at least 3am. Its an absolute vortex.” After opening his Bloomsbury stores, Oli had always planned for Soho to be his next destination. “I knew exactly where I wanted to open: I wanted to open on Berwick Street. I really believed it was the high street of the neighbourhood. It was the first store we opened where the tills began to ring from the very first day… if the shoe fits, as they say.”

Oli is uncompromising in the standards he sets for production and provenance, sourcing the finest fabrics and yarns from artisanal British and Italian mills. He prides himself on producing his garments in only the best European factories and workshops, with around 40 per cent of the collection made here in London or elsewhere in England. Despite the emphasis on British quality, Oliver Spencer’s eye is firmly fixed on the global market. Today, his clothes are stocked in many of the world’s leading department stores, from Selfridges to Liberty of London, and he has opened shops in Toronto and Paris, as well as developing a profitable international online business. With wearers of his brand including Daniel Craig, Tinie Tempah, Alex James and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Oli confesses that his next ambition is to become a household name.

oliverspencer.co.uk

@oliverspencer

Raymond Revuebar

Raymond Revuebar


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Getty Images/Hulton Archive


Behind its ever-changing façade, Soho’s streets still hold secrets; dig beneath the surface and you can find yourself transported back to a different time. Make your way through the daytime crowds of Berwick Street, head towards the seedy Walkers Court, and stick around until nightfall, when the infamous doors to The Box Soho are open wide. Step inside this relic of Soho’s not-so-distant past and you’re in what was once the Doric Ballroom, which in turn became the setting of the Raymond Revuebar, perhaps Paul Raymond’s most famous legacy to the neighbourhood he reigned over for so many years.

It’s a legacy that still haunts the streets of Soho today. As evening revellers pass along Brewer Street, most don’t look up to see the neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar that still glows above their heads. But, in spirit at least, the centre of Raymond’s empire of erotic entertainment, sex, publishing and property lives on. Despite the change of name and ownership, The Box Soho remains true to the Raymond Revuebar’s legacy, serving up nightly helpings of titillation, nudity and sex. Paul Raymond pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade and prospered for more than 40 years; it was perhaps an unexpected ascendency for an entrepreneur who started out as a wartime spiv selling black market nylons from a market stall.

Paul Raymond was a stage name he chose early in his career, but he began life as Geoffrey Anthony Quinn, born in 1925 into a working class, Roman Catholic family in Liverpool. His mother wanted him to have a sound job, something steady and respectable, like a railway ticket office clerk, and she never fully accepted his more risqué chosen career.

Despite his success and confidence in later life, Raymond was a shy youngster who often stammered. If his childhood taught him anything, it was the need to establish his independence, something that ultimately defined his character. He left school at 15, working at the Manchester Ship Canal as an office boy. After a stint in the RAF, he embarked on a rather different life. He purchased a mind-reading act for £25, billing himself as a clairvoyant, and in Liverpool became a theatrical agent and impresario. The manager of one theatre told Raymond that he would book his act – but there was a catch. Raymond’s two female colleagues would only be allowed on stage if they appeared entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that nudity was permitted in a theatre providing women didn’t move whilst onstage. Finding away around this obstruction became something of a creative challenge: by putting the girls on a rotating platform, Raymond found a way to make his early shows a success. This set him on a path through a changing Britain – one that led him to Soho and made him one of the richest men in the country.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning public theatres into private clubs. In 1958 the old Doric Ballroom at 12 Walker’s Court, Soho, reopened as the Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of explicit daily shows. At the time, this was one of very few legal venues in London offering full-frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revuebar also operated a Sunday night show targeted at a gay audience. The success of the club was inevitably controversial, and in 1961 the chairman of the London Sessions called the show “filthy, disgusting and beastly”, and fined Raymond £5,000. It might have been a setback, but it also provided publicity for the shows worth many times this amount. By the late 1960s, the Revuebar was solely hosting striptease performances. This in turn made way for big-budget erotic shows of the type presented by Continental clubs such as the Crazy Horse. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Known The Festival of Erotica, the show ran for many years, often with three performances a night.

By this time, Raymond had become a British institution. His realisation that the naked female body could deliver far bigger box office once it was relocated from Soho’s seedy cellars to the world of the theatre was the key to his success. Taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, his stage holdings grew, while his formula of providing nudity without actionable crudity was also applied to print publications like Men Only, Mayfair and Escort. Raymond’s wealth and empire begun to spread throughout Soho: he purchased freeholds of buildings throughout the neighbourhood, and created Soho Estates, amassing around 400 properties in the Soho area and becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements.

With competition from the wave of table dancing clubs that opened during the 1990s, audience numbers for traditional striptease shows were dwindling, and by 1997 Raymond sold the Revuebar to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar hung on for a few more years, eventually closing in 2004. After the death of his daughter Debbie in 1992, Raymond stepped out of the media limelight and began to loosen his connections with the organisation he had built. A recluse in his last years, he died of respiratory failure, aged 82, in 2008, his granddaughters Fawn and India inheriting an estate estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

You can recapture something of the glory days of Paul Raymond’s Soho in a new exhibition from Getty Images Gallery, which unearths rare photos of Soho’s past, and particularly of its nightlife and entertainment venues. The Raymond Revuebar, of course, is one of the exhibition’s focal points. Running until November 19th, the exhibition will be a trip down memory lane for some and an eye-opener for many others, juxtaposing the neighbourhood’s seedy roots with everyday Soho-ites through a series of beautiful photographs carefully selected from Getty Images’ vast historical archives – from David Bowie at The Marquee Club, jazz greats at Ronnie Scott’s and stunning images of Soho’s nightlife.

 

Filson

Filson


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“There’s an endless amount of inspiration within the Filson brand given that we’re over a century old…”

Filson is a brand that was born out of necessity: it arrived in the right place and at the right time, and with a sense of purpose that has kept it on course ever since.

Thousands of fortune hunters were stampeding through Seattle, heading north. Born in 1850 and inheriting his fathers pioneer spirit and love of the great outdoors, CC Filson was armed with a strong work ethic, a reputation for honesty and several years’ experience operating a small loggers’ outfitting store. He knew that quality was of vital importance and that the only thing good enough was the very best. It was said that if a man was heading north, he should come to Filson for his outfit.

The rugged quality of Filson products has been setting the standard for American outdoor apparel for over 100 years, as creative director Alex Carleton is well aware: he was a Filson customer before he even came on board the brand, growing up in New England with a love for the outdoors. “I was familiar with the products and always intrigued by the world they came from. I wanted to help reveal a lot of the untold stories that existed. I’ve always gravitated towards American companies that played in the arena of tradition and outdoor recreation. Filson is the perfect combination of both,” he says.

As creative director, Alex is a firm believer in working with what’s there and maintaining a connection with the company’s origins, purpose and sense of place. “I’m a creative, I don’t really feel comfortable working in a vacuum. It’s not my style. There’s an endless amount of inspiration within the Filson brand given that we’re over a century old. I’m cautious about not letting our narrative stretch too far away from where we are and where we come from. It’s really easy to keep close to the core when you love it,” he says.

As Alex explains, a book could easily be written about the story of Filson. Producing unfailingly reliable gear for outdoor work, the company’s golden age lasted for decades, with Filson kitting out the innumerable men heading north in the hope of making their fortunes. “The Cliff Notes go like this: CC Filson was a pioneer who, by way of Nebraska, landed in Seattle at the end of the 19th century. He and his brother opened what would be a modern day equivalent of a hardware shop in Pioneer Square. When gold was discovered in the Klondike, being the entrepreneur he was, CC targeted prospectors as his customers and outfitted them for the insanely harsh weather of the north. Filson is the original Alaska outfitter.” Come the 20th century, the brand introduced outdoor sporting goods oriented toward those quintessentially American pastimes of hunting and fishing. Today, Filson see themselves as offering a unique blend of products for both work and recreation – and not just in the wild northlands of the USA.

If London is the gateway to Europe, then Soho is the gateway to London, and Newburgh Street was where the brand came to open its first retail outlet outside of the US. “We opened our first store at 9 Newburgh Street in April 2013, and then our second store at 13 Newburgh Street in December 2015,” Alex explains. “At number 9, you’ll find our luggage, bags and accessories, and at number 13 our clothing, such as our famous Mackinaw jackets, cruisers and shirts.” Their Soho stores have managed to integrate into the surrounding neighbourhood in the same way that their US stores have done. It’s about establishing a feel for the environment and getting to know the local area and work with it. “Soho has a sense of adventure and discovery, and we definitely share those values,” he says, “We host an array of events that give us the opportunity to bring a slice of the Pacific Northwest to life, from Whiskey and Wax, where we will show you how to wax your jacket, to events hosted by people that live the Filson life, such as wild chefs and foragers.”

Over the decades, Filson has both maintained what works and continued to innovate. It’s interesting that while so many heritage brands have changed, and in the process lost themselves, Filson has concentrated on delivering what they always have: a guarantee of quality and a focus on making products geared for the wild. In the future, just as in the past, Filson will continue to serve those customers who demand the very best high quality apparel for outdoor pursuits, and the brand’s presence in Soho – bringing a taste of the far north to central London – will undoubtedly grow. “We shall continue to innovate our product offerings and foster that same entrepreneurial spirit that CC Filson had. We’ll continue to mine our archives and share our adventure stories while creating new ones today,” says Alex.

 

Bernie Katz

Bernie Katz


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Edu Torres


“…Soho is a place of many emotions, a place of ghosts. A place you shouldn’t stay for too long… get in and get out.”

Bernie Katz lights a cigarette handed to him by Madness’s own Chas Smash as we chat in the smoking area of the Groucho Club where Katz has reigned as gatekeeper and host for almost a quarter of a century. Connected, intellectual and brilliantly eccentric, he’s inarguably one of Soho’s most familiar faces and one of London’s most famous hosts. There’s a story that, some years ago, an elderly lady arrived at the Groucho believing she was at Soho House. After Bernie had taken the trouble to walk her, at a steady pace, to her intended destination, he ran into a friend, actor Stephen Fry, who immediately dubbed him “the Prince of Soho”. The name stuck.

He looks the part too: the slickest, best-dressed and most charming fixture of the Groucho, clad head-to-toe in custom-made clothing by friend and tailor Chandni Odedra, a wardrobe that runs the gamut from leopard print to sequins.

It wasn’t always like this. Bernie was born and raised in South London, where his father was one of the area’s most notorious gangsters. The young Bernie saw drive-by shootings and extreme violence from an early age. One day, when he was just 15, a man burst into his family home in Kennington and shot his father dead right in front of him. The gangland upbringing his father’s way of life had exposed him to was now at an end, and Bernie moved on to another life. He worked for a period in a haberdashery store in Tooting, before getting a job at the long-gone Tiddy Dols restaurant (famed for its 18th-century Welsh Rarebit and gingerbread) in Shepherd Market. Thus began a career in hospitality that saw him move on to The Savoy and a restaurant in Italy.

At a time when private members’ clubs were archaic, men-only retreats, a group of publishers that included Carmen Cahill, Ed Victor, Liz Calder and literary agent Michael Sissons had an idea. They imagined a place that welcomed both men and women to meet, work and socialise – and so the Groucho Club was born. Almost a quarter of a century ago, Bernie was invited to work at the club by the late Dick Bradshaw, inventor of the espresso martini, to cover a waiter’s paternity leave. Despite describing himself as having been an awful barman and waiter, Bernie found himself with a permanent role at the club when the new father failed to return.

“There was once an amazing woman called Teresa Cornelys, a singer who became a lover of Casanova,” Bernie tells me. “She landed here in Soho in her late thirties, where in 1760 she invented the first private members’ club at Carlisle House, Soho Square, hosting a range of fashionable gatherings. Teresa and Soho is how members clubs came to be born.” It’s a tradition that Bernie takes pride in continuing. “The Groucho is like a family. Everybody looks after each other. Members, members’ children and members’ children’s children – it’s like an extended family for all. No matter who somebody is, if they come to see me, I’ll see that they land on their feet,” he says. “After being here for over 20 years, you get to know all sorts of different people. I’ve been captivated by the arts world, which has led me to work on numerous art auctions featuring everyone from Peter Blake to Damien Hirst. In addition to this, my sister has an autistic son, thus I’ve been able to organise auctions to benefit the National Autistic Society. I’ve dabbled a lot in the art world – hence I’ve got a great art collection. Let’s call that my pension!” he laughs.

In his time at the Groucho, Bernie has made the club his own, and in turn it has shaped him. “Without meaning to, without changing myself and remaining who I am, I have always kept my feet on the ground. I’ve never gotten too carried away… you’ve gotta remain as solid and as real as you can,” he says. “You do as you say, and say as you do. If you say you’re gonna do something, you’ve gotta do it and stick to your word. I think that’s what, for the want of a better word, has been the secret of my success as a host. I’ve always said I can do something or I can’t, and I’ve always delivered on what I say I can do. That’s been the recipe for my reign.” As well as having been shaped by the club, Bernie believes that Soho too has influenced him in many ways. He explains that while he loves working here, he likes to live at a “safe distance” from the area, finding comfort in his home in Kentish Town. “There’s so much you can say about Soho, and so little you can say that hasn’t been said before. Soho is like a Shangri-La: it’s music, art and fun” he says. “I can be anywhere in Soho and I feel at home, looked after. It’s a place of friendly faces.”

Bernie has noted how Soho has been changing in recent years, though for him this is part of its identity too and doesn’t affect the essential qualities of an area that will always remain close to his heart. “Soho is very fast-paced. It’s always changed and adapted to the times. It’s a place where you can be openly gay, black or white, whoever you wanna be: it’s a place for all. I’ve always thought of it as an animated film – it’s like a shop that changes every five minutes; though to my eyes, it hasn’t really changed all that much in hundreds of years. I think Soho will always remain vibrant and colourful,” he says. “Soho goes back as far as Henry VIII, hence the hunting cry ‘Soho!’ It began to modernise during the reign of King Charles II. Century after century, decade after decade, the characters haven’t really changed. It’s the most beautiful, magical, mystical and tragic place that there is.”

The many secrets and stories of Bernie’s life at the Groucho and beyond were revealed in the 2008 book Soho Society, in which he delves into the lust, envy and decadence of Soho’s party scene, and the lives of those who have joined him for the journey. Bernie’s future at the Groucho Club is uncertain; although he can’t imagine leaving the club any time soon, he explains that his long reign will eventually have to come to an end. His passion for the art world is something he’d potentially like to pursue further, launching his own ‘Prince of Soho’ exhibition, showcasing various artists’ work. For now, you’ll find him racing around the corridors of the club, or on his new regular show on Soho Radio. Whatever the future holds, the Prince of Soho’s reign is not yet done. As he says, he and Soho are “both colouring books that haven’t been coloured in properly yet… Soho is a place of many emotions, a place of ghosts. A place you shouldn’t stay for too long. Get in and get out.”

Sunspel

Sunspel


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“…many of the distinctive fabrics used were originally developed and created by the company; these continue to be used for our designs today.”

Among the maze of Soho’s historic streets it’s hard to single out one that could be termed the area’s epicentre: would it be Carnaby Street? Brewer Street, perhaps? Wardour Street has a good claim. But arguably Old Compton Street remains the quintessential heart of the neighbourhood; and in the past few years the street has become home to a welcome new addition bringing yet another layer of history and a unique heritage to the area. Originating in Nottingham, Sunspel has been crafting its high quality garments from the world’s most luxurious fabrics for 160 years. I spoke to the company’s CEO, Nicholas Brooke, about Sunspel’s Midlands roots, pioneering approach and iconic boxer shorts.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, steam power had kick-started a period of enormous worldwide change. Born in 1822, Thomas Arthur Hill founded Sunspel in 1860. His father was a hosiery maker in Nottingham, and Thomas chose to follow in his paternal footsteps and enter the hosiery and lace trade. Hill found himself at the heart of one of the earliest manufacturing sectors to embrace the introduction of steam power – and he responded by becoming a fabric innovator, and one of the great early British industrialists. Opening a textile factory in Newdigate, Nottingham – which became the centre of British lacemaking – his vision was to create simple, everyday clothing from beautiful fabrics. It’s a philosophy that Sunspel continues to follow today. Hill’s use of lightweight and very fine cotton allowed him to pioneer the development of luxury undergarments as we know them today. In addition, some of the earliest garments produced at the Newdigate factory included some of the first T-shirts, tunics and undershirts ever made.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Sunspel had become one of the first British companies to export to the Far East, having built an extensive business across the British Empire. It was during this period that Sunspel came to develop its unique Sea Island cotton fabrics, sourced from the West Indies and used in its most luxurious products. “Sunspel became renowned for producing undergarments of exceptional quality,” says Nicholas. “Many of the distinctive fabrics used were originally developed and created by the company; these continue to be used for our designs today.”

Long established as a menswear label, Sunspel today is an authentic English heritage brand, making luxury wardrobe essentials for both men and women. Current CEO Nicholas Brooke became involved with the brand through a family connection, having been aware of Sunspel for some time and having a genuine admiration for the company’s heritage and history of innovation. When Nicholas and business partner Dominic Hazlehurst bought the company from existing owner Peter Hill, a relative of founder Thomas Hill, in 2005, it was important to them that the new owners would not close the existing factory, outsource the production or tamper with the fundamentals – but there was work to be done in bringing Sunspel into the 21st century. “The brand was not in great shape. We worked hard to bring it up to date. We had lots to work with: a great heritage, fantastic product and the potential for it to be restored to its former glory. It’s been wonderful to see how much the company has transformed and grown,” says Nicholas. “Cook pioneered the development of the T-shirt as we know it and also introduced the boxer short to Britain from the US in 1947,” he tells me. “The Sunspel boxer short was later immortalised in the 1985 Levi’s commercial with Nick Kamen, who was seen stripping down to his white Sunspel boxers. The brand has also come to develop a close association with cinema, working closely with costume designer Lindy Hemming to re-fit the Riviera polo shirt for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006). It was an existing style, tailored to fit Daniel Craig – and the re-fitted version that he wore is the new standard for the polo. The brand has stayed true to its heritage, combining tradition and innovation to make exceptional quality, modern clothing for everyday wear.”

In 2012, Sunspel turned its eyes to Soho, opening at 40 Old Compton Street, on the site where the infamous Janus Bookstore once sold bespoke erotica. “Our next door neighbours are a vintage liquor store on one side and the original Patisserie Valerie on the other. Fine booze, fine pastries and fine clothing – what more could you ask for?” says Nicholas. As with their Chiltern Street and Redchurch Street stores, each Sunspel branch is the result of a carefully thought out process. Nicholas cites the Old Compton Street store as a destination for the brand’s fans and a place to be discovered by new customers. “The store stands apart as one of the only clothing stores on the street, and definitely the only store offering British luxury wardrobe essentials for men and women. It’s a vibrant area and I think Sunspel fits nicely into the architecture of the street,” he says.

If fits, too, into the way the ever-changing area is evolving. “It’s a place of neon lights and night-time haunts, eccentric characters and exotic entertainments,” says Nicholas. “Traditionally, Soho was known for its less salubrious offerings and over the years Old Compton Street has gone from a down-at-heel, seedy street to a more up-and-coming destination with a great mix of entertainment, food and stores. Albeit a bit more polished these days, I think it’s still an incredibly exciting area.” The Soho store is now established as an important and successful part of the brand, catering to a wide cross-section of Sunspel’s customer base. Nicholas feels that it has become an integral part of the fabric of the street and the wider neighbourhood. Having recently opened stores in Berlin’s fashionable Mitte district and in Omotesando, Tokyo, Sunspel is looking carefully at other store locations for the future, but Old Compton Street looks set to remain a major London home for the growing brand.

Shinola

Shinola


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Jamie McGregor Smith


Soho is a vibrant and culturally significant area… an ideal location for our first store outside of the US”

Curiosity got the better of me some months ago, and I entered a specialist emporium in the centre of Soho, above which hangs an eye-catching and distinctively branded timepiece. Inside, I found watches, leather goods, journals and bicycles. Priding itself on selling lovingly crafted products made in the USA, Shinola is a unique find even among Soho’s eclectic shopping streets. I asked Creative Director Daniel Caudill to tell me about Shinola’s Foubert’s Place store and to share the story of this quintessentially American brand.

Shinola is a relatively new Detroit-based design company dedicated to delivering world-class manufacturing jobs and making products of the highest quality and durability. A Bedrock Manufacturing brand, it was conceived in 2011 in the belief that products should be built in America and built to last; it’s a belief that emerges from the strong legacy of manufacturing in community-minded Detroit – a legacy that Shinola finds inspiration in. Standing for skill at scale, the preservation of craft and the beauty of industry, Shinola’s watch and leather factories are housed within Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, in the former Argonaut building.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Shinola’s Creative Director is responsible for each and every detail. Born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Montana, Daniel Caudill studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. He then went on to work alongside a number of apparel brands before moving into styling photoshoots for music videos and adverts, which in turn led to him becoming a consultant for a number of major American brands. Although everything at Shinola is a direct result of collaboration, it is safe to say that none of what makes the brand what it is today would exist without Daniel. “My role here is a culmination of my career so far,” he says. “A friend introduced me to some people when what would become Shinola was just an idea among a handful of friends. We would have conversations about what the aesthetics of the brand could be. These conversations went on to be the creative foundations of the brand.”

From Shinola’s signature watches to leather accessories, journals and bicycles, the brand’s crucial founding ethos is that their products should be built to last. Using high quality, labour-intensive materials, experienced craftspeople and the finest manufacturing processes available, Shinola’s products are more than just accessories for modern day living. “We wanted to make beautiful products,” says Daniel, “but more importantly we wanted to create jobs, which is still one of our proudest achievements to date. The company grew naturally when we made the decision to move to Detroit in 2012. From there, we found and trained people from within the community, built a factory and started manufacturing beautiful watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals.” Daniel and Shinola believe in the history of Detroit, but also in its future, which is why they’re based there. Investing in skill, Shinola is creating a community that is thriving through the excellence of craft and pride in work. The brand is reclaiming and redefining the meaning of American luxury goods: they are things that are made well.

London was the ideal choice for Shinola as the first bricks-and-mortar outlet outside of the US, with Daniel describing the city as the gateway to the world. “We opened our first store at 13 Newburgh Street in October 2014,” he says. “In December 2015 we moved to a bigger store just up the street at 28 Foubert’s Place and added a Shinola clock to the outside of the store, which is an oversized take on our original Runwell watch.” In establishing the store here in Soho, Shinola used the same approach that it had in the US, integrating and collaborating with the local community. “We throw great events and parties for our neighbours, customers and local agencies and always try to be interesting to them, be it through craft-maker events or book launches or whiskey and food tasting,” he says. “Soho is energetic and spirited, with adventure on every corner, including ours. We identify locations and stores based on the beauty of the raw space and the community we are surrounded by. Soho is a vibrant and culturally significant area with a strong sense of community – an ideal location for our first store outside of the US.”

In almost no time at all, the Shinola brand has gone from strength to strength, growing and evolving constantly in the process. It has gone from employing just nine people to 540, working in multiple factories across multiple new product categories. “The people who work in our factories are always learning new ways to improve how we make our products, as well as learning to make new ones,” says Daniel. “We are also opening a lot of stores in some cool places; we’ll have 22 by the end of this year.” Shinola’s future in the Soho neighbourhood is certainly bright, as they continue to interact with the surrounding area from their Foubert’s Place store. Moving forward, the brand is set to continue working on a number of projects, such as expanding their women’s line, and introducing new and exciting product lines: watch this space!

Mark Baxter

Mark Baxter


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Anyone can fit in up here in Soho. We’re all chameleons…”

He harks back to an age when a man’s word was his bond, when deals were sealed with a handshake and when the world turned, so it seemed, at a far slower pace. He’s the author of Elizabeth, Peter and Me, Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry and the co-author of The A-Z of Mod and The Mumper, but he’s better known to the denizens of Soho as the über-connected, go-to public relations man who walks this small corner of central London with a rare, old world sensibility that sees him bring people together, be they bar owners, writers, rock stars or tailors – and all for the greater creative good.

Upstairs at the French House, Mark Baxter looks out into the mid-morning street, removes his spectacles, stirs his cappuccino and takes stock. “I live south of the river, and when I was a little kid my mum and my old man would bring us over here to do typical sightseeing stuff like Trafalgar Square and the lights of Christmas. Back then, I realised how close we were to Soho. It’s something like 25 minutes on the bus from Camberwell in south-east London, which to me is sometimes an angry place. Nothing’s ever been easy down there. It’s hard to make a living. There are some tough people. And me, I won’t take no for an answer. My old man used to say ‘If you can’t go through the door, go through the window’. In other words, don’t give up.”

But as a kid in the early ’70s, he was still taking it all in. “As I got a little bit older, and I’m talking 12 or 13, I used to get the number 53 bus from school on the Old Kent Road straight into the West End. That’s what I used to do, regularly. I remember Soho back then – I remember all the peep shows – but it was pretty seedy to be honest. But all my mates stayed locally, played locally and worked locally. I saw a different world up here, but it was quite hard for me to get people to come with me to see it.”

Baxter, like a lot of London kids, would play the Red Rover game: you’d jump on a random bus on a day fare and see where it took you. It broadened his horizons. “Coming here opened my eyes. When I had my first real job on Fleet Street in 1982, in the print trade, I started coming to Soho with a bit of money in my pocket and started enjoying the clubs and the clothes and record shops. Me being a curious person, I started checking out a lot of art galleries and museums. You had to seek this stuff out because there was no Internet back then, obviously. By travelling around London, I’d see posters for things like a Terence Donovan or Terry O’Neill exhibition. I’d check them all out and it was a big step for someone like me, from the place I came from. By exposing myself to a new world, the world of Soho, and walking around and seeing stuff, I began to meet like minds on my circuit.”

Baxter’s voice is a deep south-east London reverberation that fills the room. The words come in rapid waves, their sentiments unashamedly upbeat about what can still be achieved in this historic square quarter mile. “Anyone can fit in up here in Soho. We’re all chameleons. A lot of people I know up here, we meet for a coffee for an hour or so, and they’re either seeing their tailor or they’re here for a casting or a voice over. No one’s dwelling in the box for too long. Everyone’s flitting between things. I mean, this area is still full of great talent, but maybe back in the 1950s someone might have been in the pub all day, long drinking. These days Soho is a different place. You can’t live your life that way now, not if you want to make a pound note.”

He cites Mark Powell, Michael Caine and Paul Weller as inspiring working class figures who worked hard to prevent their creativity from being stifled. “Despite where you start, it’s where you finish that’s important,” he says. “I identify with guys like this. Most of my mates have moved to Kent or Essex, but I’ve always loved the multicultural atmosphere of London. I’ve always been a people person. I think that’s probably what it comes down to: what people bring to the mix, what they’re wearing, listening to or reading. To me it’s always endlessly fascinating. I always wanted to learn, but transforming ideas into making them happen is the hard bit. And trying to get someone to pay you is another matter. My grandad was a rag and bone man, and that is basically selling. So I’m convinced that it’s in my genes. It doesn’t matter what it is, I can find an angle to sell you something. I’ve always had that, and to me it seems fairly obvious sometimes. People like my grandad were the early recyclers. Everything was about profit. This comes from a really mixed background, that working class work ethic. It’s pure graft. There’s no other way out of this: you’ve just got to graft your way out.”

When asked about Soho’s future, he’s frank: “Soho’s on a tipping point. Family-run businesses are being offered silly sums of money for their businesses, and if you’re of a certain age and think that you might want to retire… I can see Soho changing very quickly as new money comes in and buys people out. So we should make the most of Soho now and get the best out of it while it’s still here with the last vestiges of the past. Places like the French House should be celebrated.”

The French tricolour outside the window is whipped into life by the wind, and Baxter eyes it. “You can still find a little piece of old London here in Soho, that’s evolved naturally, organically; but money always wins in the end. The pound note will dictate what survives and what prospers. Soho is trying to attract new people. Old locals are few and far between these days. The balance has been changed – and massively. If rents go through the roof, these agencies and businesses around here are going to go elsewhere. We’re hoping against hope this place is not going to change, but inevitably, it will. It always has.”

Kim & Paul Abraham

Kim & Paul Abraham


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Edu Torres


“I’m an old punk… I socialise in Soho. It’s still got a buzzing community…”

The three cats come walking around the chairs and move up to me, the interloper. They look me full in the face before leaping onto the sofa to take an even closer shufti. Then, having seen enough, they lazily depart, mews proclaiming their hunger. My gaze shifts back to Paul Abraham who sits across from his wife Kim. We’re seated in their flat, perched high above Endell Street and within sight of St Giles, Covent Garden.

“I’m an old punk,” Paul tells me, “and I used to come to Soho to see punk bands. It was the lure of music, I suppose, that got me coming to Soho. One of the venues was the Marquee, another the Wag on Wardour Street. And near here, where we live now, was the Roxy Club on Neal Street. The West End in 1977 was an interesting time, quite a dark place. I would spend all day walking around Soho and the West End. And today, well, I still feel there’s a vibe in Soho that’s nowhere else. Originally, it was the music that attracted me. Plus the fact that It never felt like white suburbia.”

Nor will it ever, despite Soho’s growing residential aspect. And in Soho you can still spot the odd punk refugee who made it out of the maelstrom and lived to tell the tale. If you blink you’ll probably miss them – although you can see Kim and Paul walking through Soho most days, their combined sartorial flair setting them apart from the thronging pavement crowds. They’re the type of Londoners one rarely spots these days, but when you do, your eye is arrested. Kim and Paul come from a dying band of stylists who once inhabited the clubs, walk-ups and bars of a grittier, some would say more honest, era in Soho’s history. They wear their clothes as a defiant semaphore in a world slowly turning grey and uninspiring. It’s this, perhaps more eloquent, language of clothes that rises above the mundane argot spoken by the homogenised masses who have drifted by stealth into the Soho maze. And it’s a sartorial language that Kim and Paul speak very well.

Of the Soho she remembers, Kim says: “It never had a hang up about itself. It was always diverse, and it was diverse class-wise as well. There were expensive places you could go, but there were also places where you could get a cup of tea for ten pence. There was a real mix of things.” With Paul hailing originally from Bromley in Kent, and Kim from Hornchurch in Essex, it’s the classic tale of a man and woman being drawn inexorably to the bright lights of the big city.

Currently employed at the world famous Savile Row tailor, Huntsman – upon which the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service was based – Paul is part punk, part stylist and part forward-thinker who tenaciously worked his way into the discreet world of high-class tailoring via an unusual route. “I got a job working for Christina Smith who owned a lot of property in Covent Garden. I was doing carpentry and decorating work for her while also singing in a band. But, of course, the band split and I began to work for her on a full-time basis, and it was then that I got further involved in the Covent Garden area via her and the community centre.”

Then he got married. Then divorced. “At the time when I met Kim, I was going through a divorce, so she suggested I go for a more steady job, and so I went for a handyman’s job at Huntsman on Savile Row. And I’ve been here ever since. A lot of Savile Row is very discreet,” says Paul. “For example, you don’t disclose who your customers are. It’s a gentlemanly agreement; it’s as simple as that.” Kim currently works as a primary school teacher at Netley School, just off Tottenham Court Road, which serves the Regent Park Estate. “The vast majority of people who live in the West End are ordinary people,” she says. “Covent Garden is full of social housing and people aren’t earning huge salaries on the whole around here. So when the Stockpot on Old Compton Street went, it was a bad thing.”

Paul agrees: “Old Compton Street is generic now. I know London has always been changing, but the question now is whether it is changing for the better.” It’s a genuine concern for a couple who once loved the vibrant undercurrent of Soho nightlife. But Paul returns to the sartorial side of things again as the cats drift back to see what all the noise is all about. “When I think back to Carnaby Street, even in the late ’70s when it was a bit run down and grotty, you could still get great clothes made there, and cheaply. But now it’s just chains. That is what’s sad about so-called progress. But I wouldn’t mind moving back to Soho,” he says after a moment of reflection. “I used to live on St Anne’s Court and I still drink there. I socialise in Soho. It’s still got a buzzing community.”

“Soho was edgy because of the characters who lived there, so if you remove them, if you social cleanse the area, then it’s going to change and become something completely different. And this,” says Kim, gesturing to the decor of their flat, “this is our little bubble.” Their home is a time warp of figurines, paintings and ephemera from decades they remember with fondness, and they can maintain this microcosm as they see fit while the outside world marches to a different drum. “The stuff in here makes us smile,” she says, “and we’ve always liked dressing up. We always will. And there are still a few eccentric characters about. But I’ve always said that when I’m older I’d like to go and live in Brighton which, frankly, is Soho-on-Sea.” Paul mutely concurs. Now it’s just the cats left to convince.

Carleen Anderson

Carleen Anderson


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“…if I live a little bit longer, I’ll need something to do with my time.”

Coming from musical royalty can make some singers comfortable and complacent, unwilling to stray into artistic realms that might stretch their abilities and tax them unduly. But this isn’t the case with Carleen Anderson. For her, it’s been a long journey from Texas to London, and it’s a story she now wants to tell.

Born and raised in Houston, Carleen received a music scholarship to go to school, but back then had no intention of entering the music industry. But fate had other ideas. Carleen had been surrounded by musicians from the get-go: her godfather was the late, great James Brown, whose band numbered her mother Vicki Anderson and her late stepfather Bobby Byrd among its members. So when ‘Pops’ (Byrd) asked her to go on the road with him to Europe, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

When she subsequently crossed the pond to London, moving here in 1990 with her young son, she found a city that was busily conducting a love affair with the rarest of grooves. It was the time of warehouse parties, acid jazz and a freer fusion of musical styles, as soul, jazz and funk were resurrected by a new generation. In Soho, in clubland, and on radio stations like Jazz FM and Kiss FM, things were looking up as a rebooted music scene recovered from the dissipation of the 1980s. And for Carleen, it was the breath of fresh air she needed: she formed The Young Disciples, with Marco Nelson and Femi Williams, and then went on to work with the Brand New Heavies, Paul Weller, Nigel Kennedy, Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney and many more.

The fact that it was England, and not the US, that provided the fertile ground for this extended period of creativity is not lost on her: “I couldn’t have done this anywhere but in England,” she tells me over a coffee on Frith Street. “And make no mistake, I am very blessed. But today, I’ve had enough of that, of the three-minute song. What I’m doing now is very different from anything I’ve done before as far as a project is concerned.”

She helped write the modern Soho soundtrack – the clubs, bars and restaurants of the area still pulse to songs like Apparently Nothin’Mama Said and Woman In Me. But today she’s looking to the future with a new project – Cage Street Memorial – that represents her first foray into theatre. After a successful reception at the Albany Theatre in March 2015, which was funded by an Arts Council England grant, she is looking to take the piece into full production for a 2017 tour.

Having experienced the confines of industry-friendly musical formats and found them too restrictive, she says, “It was never my thing, but something that was offered to me at a time when I had a young child that needed taking care of. But writing for The Young Disciples was a great job.” It was a job that gave birth to the seminal Road To Freedom LP (Talkin’ Loud, 1991), but having been an independent artist since 2001 and a recurring resident at Soho’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s since 2006, now’s the time for a gear change as this project moves her into new territory.

Cage Street Memorial is completed. The book has been written, the album has been recorded and the script has been developed to take it to the next stage of the workshop. The book has to find a publisher and the album has been courted by a couple of record companies, so now it’s decision time.

“I call Cage Street Memorial a theatre production because it’s hybrid in nature. Digital media arts will play a significant role to accompany the story telling. Opera has embraced digital art, but plays and musicals are less inviting for this new kind of media. So that’s what I’m leaning towards… an opera setting, of sorts.” She tells me it’s a unique project that will mix music, opera and spoken word.

Cage Street Memorial’s story begins in 1960, when a young girl called Cassie, being raised by her grandparents, begins her journey through the American scene just as the Civil Rights movement erupts around her. Based on Carleen’s own life, the tale resonates today as America continues to experience political convulsions. It’s an artistically courageous move to make, and Carleen agrees: “I can’t look at this as my last piece of work. This is not a summation of my life. I look at Cage Street Memorial as the template of how my work will be from now on.

“I want to engage the audience in a way that makes them feel it was worth it to leave home and come to the theatre; it’s different from anything I’ve done before, mainly because I’m telling stories in the way I like to tell them. The work I’ve done, from my Young Disciples days up until now, was all in the ‘music industry market platform’. That’s the template of writing songs with the intention of them being played on radio.”

This change of direction springs from her desire to re-engage with her profession after having achieved so much in the traditional music industry. Today, she has the benefit of all that experience, and her emotional connection to music is steadfast. But are there sacrifices to be made in pursuing something new?

“Sleep. You can’t sleep because there’s always something to fix, be it words or musical arrangements. You sacrifice having a social life, but it’s something I’m willing to do. You have to deal with non-stop politics in the theatre world because the work is living, it’s continuous, and one which affects your spirit. But these sacrifices are worth it because I’m able to express the art of life in a way that I’ve never been able to do before.”

As Soho experiences a rebirth, so too does an artist who knows these streets only too well. In seeking a new way to tell stories, Carleen Anderson’s horizons have broadened. “Cage Street Memorial is not a story that could be told in America because people would be uncomfortable hearing what it has to convey – because of the truth it reveals. But I’m hoping this is a new way of building a platform where I can continue to tell my stories. And from these stories I hope will come a new way of composing music. And also,” she laughs, “if I live a little bit longer, I’ll need something to do with my time.”

Clothing by SOBOYE

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The Groucho Club

The Groucho Club


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


“Its like The Muppet Show with Fraggle Rock waiting in the wings. Its a place like nowhere else I know, a place of huge forgiveness…”

Behind a yellow door at 45 Dean Street, it’s easy to forget that only 30 years ago Britain was a different place when it came to recreation. In the mid-1980s, with the amendment of the wartime licensing laws, a restaurant and bar revolution was underway. At this time, private members’ clubs were archaic, men-only retreats at opposite poles of the social scale – think stuffy Pall Mall on the one hand versus rowdy Northern working men’s clubs on the other. It was during this period that a group of publishers that included Carmen Cahill, Ed Victor, Liz Calder and literary agent Michael Sissons had an idea. Imagining a place that welcomed both men and women to meet, work and socialise, they created The Groucho Club.

Tony Mackintosh, of the famous chocolate family, had opened a new sort of members’ bar in Covent Garden on the back of the success of Dingwalls Dance Hall in Camden Lock. It was called The Zanzibar, and was usually full of rock stars and rich bohemians taking advantage of its late-night licence. Approached by the aforementioned group of publishers, Mackintosh was taken with their idea. Already working with wine dealer John Armit on a restaurant in Notting Hill, he thought this new conception of a private club might allow further scope for his idea of mixing the modern and traditional. The next step was to find the right location for this new kind of club.

At the time, Soho was still the West End’s bohemian quarter, a colourful mixture of the seedy and the sophisticated. Well established as London’s red light district, it also harboured a number of gentlemen’s establishments, dancing clubs, illegal drinking dens and Italian coffee shops. Having been a restaurant since 1880, 45 Dean Street was best remembered as the home of Gennaro’s, where the Kings of Greece, Yugoslavia and Siam dined alongside Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba. The restaurant is commemorated today in the Groucho’s first floor Gennaro Room; supposedly once the scene of a fatal shooting, and, some say, haunted, it’s now famed for its beautiful vaulted roof and glass ceiling.

After the demise of Gennaro’s, the property fell into disrepair and became an Italian restaurant, with few reminders of its glamorous past to be seen. The cost of the freehold and the renovations required to transform 45 Dean Street into the comfortable modern club we know today meant that the creatives behind the initiative needed to pool their contact books. An unorthodox financial prospectus was created, complete with cartoons by Quentin Blake, and sent out to all their friends and associates to find funding for the project. Over 400 people put their hands in their pockets. The shared vision of Mackintosh and his literary associates became The Groucho Club, and was quickly adopted as Soho’s living room and the approved watering hole for the creative industries.

The Groucho opened in 1985 with bars, offices, two restaurants, private event rooms and 20 bedrooms. Mackintosh’s new members’ club was granted a both a daytime and a late-night license to sell alcohol; of course, it was soon attracting committed drinkers and post-show punters. The premise was a simple: a modern interpretation of stuffier and more traditional establishments, welcoming both men and women. Those who joined tended to be, like the club’s founders, from creative backgrounds – the arts, publishing, film, music and advertising – and many worked in the Soho area.

Despite welcoming both men and women, the early days of the club were particularly male-dominated. Writing under the pseudonym of Jan Siegel, British fantasy novelist Amanda Hemingway is often referred to by staff and club members as the First Lady of the Groucho. Joining in the club’s opening year, Amanda was an infrequent visitor until the late 1980s, when she became something of a regular. “It was a very male dominated club. It still has a lot more male than female members today, but in those days there were very few regular female members,” she recalls. “If women came in on their own, as I did, they tended to get friendly with staff, and the then manager, the great Liam Carson. Liam would always take care of you – he was lovely. He always introduced everybody in the same way. No matter how famous somebody was, he would say ‘Oh, Amanda, you know so and so don’t you?’ on the assumption that if you didn’t know each other, you ought to. I think Liam is the guy who is responsible for the success of the Groucho. Kind, friendly and unpretentious, he knew everybody in those days. He was a magic person.” The first manager and host of the Groucho, Irishman Liam Carson is widely considered to have established the club’s unique social character. He was one of London’s greatest professional hosts, a prominent figure during the Groucho’s heyday in the 1990s. He and Amanda remained close friends until his untimely death in 2005.

It was in the 1990s that the Groucho really established itself as the favoured watering hole for the famous and infamous. It became a hot topic, mentioned regularly in the media as the place for actors, comedians and artists to work, rest and play. “It’s got a very wide membership. It’s the unwritten rules at the club that people abide by,” Amanda says. “I often refer to it as fight club; the first rule of the Groucho Club is you don’t talk about the Groucho Club. What happens at the Groucho, stays at the Groucho. Living in London, its my adopted living room.”

After Liam Carson, came glamorous Mary-Lou Sturridge, who as Managing Director often acted as friend, counsellor and even landlady to the club’s members. Today’s gatekeeper and host, South London born Bernie Katz, was originally invited to work at the club by the late Dick Bradshaw, the inventor of the espresso martini, to cover a waiter’s paternity leave. When the person he was covering for failed to return, Bernie found himself in a permanent role at the club. Having spent his whole life in the hospitality business, Bernie has worked his way up through the ranks at to become the slickest, best-dressed and most charming addition to The Groucho Club and one of London’s most famous hosts. Despite describing himself as having been an awful barman and waiter, Bernie has now been working at the club for 22 years. “This is named after Bradley Adams – this is his favourite place. Luckily he’s still alive to enjoy it,” says Bernie, as he and I sit and chat about the club in Brad’s corner. “If you look at the membership, it’s quite balanced. Although it does feel male-dominated, the average woman who does come here is quite powerful – they make up more than one man! For it to remain quite light-hearted, you need likeminded people from the same fields to become members, otherwise all you’ve got is oil and water. I really don’t think that things have changed that much, people look at this place through rose-tinted glasses and have a romantic idea about it. It’s beautiful and colourful. It’s like The Muppet Show with Fraggle Rock waiting in the wings. It’s a place like nowhere else I know, a place of huge forgiveness…” Nicknamed the ‘Prince of Soho’ by Stephen Fry, Bernie is not only a prominent figure at the club but in the wider Soho neighbourhood as well. While the future may take him in a different direction, he doesn’t see himself as ever leaving the Groucho completely. Today, working alongside current managing director, Matthew Hobbs, Bernie oversees the club that changed the rules of the game and that has for 30 years been the benchmark for a new generation of members’ clubs both in London and internationally. With the club now approaching 5,000 members from across the globe, its place as the most desirable arts and media members’ club in the world remains unmatched.

Anne Pigalle

Anne Pigalle


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Any stance that goes against the grain will be seen as provocative. I can only write and perform what I feel…”

In my late teens, though more fixated on electronic acts like Depeche Mode or the Human league, I had a sort of obsession with an artist whose career seemed at the time an exquisitely incongruous one. As the only French singer ever signed to a UK label, Anne Pigalle was already unique, but it was her languorous tone, marrying romance and debauchery to a nocturnal soundtrack of jazz-tinged chansons, which made her even more special. Pigalle was a Piaf for the New Wave, and at the height of the 80s, posters announcing her first album covered Soho.

Anne had moved here from Paris, borrowing her name along the way from the French capital’s Pigalle district. It was an area famed for its nightlife, sex shops and prostitutes – much like Soho in its heyday. And Soho was therefore always destined to become Anne Pigalle’s spiritual home. “The first two places I landed in when I first came to London were the famous Sex Pistols squat in Stoke Newington and my boyfriend’s office on Berwick Street, which was an ex-brothel. Yes, everything seemed exciting and fast, but fast in a good way: fast with real life, important life. We used to go and see the porn films in Soho and laugh at the dirty old men. We felt very naughty.”

It’s a naughtiness she’s never really lost. Straightforward, sometimes difficult in a charmingly Gallic way, but always passionate, Anne’s aim seems less to provoke than just to be unapologetically herself. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given her roots in the Punk scene. “I was involved with Punk in my teenage years in Paris and then in London. Punk was very much New York-Paris-London, starting with the whole New York Dolls thing and the great influence of the Situationists and May 68 on Malcolm McLaren.”

After Punk died, Anne collaborated with luminaries such as Adrian Sherwood and Michael Nyman, but her focus was on her own career. “I wrote my songs, put my new ideas and concept together, played a few clubs in London while looking for a label. This was the beginning of things.” In the summer of 1985, she signed a record deal, and joined the roster of one the era’s most unusual labels, ZTT, whose stable included the perfect pop confections of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda alongside the more experimental likes of Andrew Poppy and Art of Noise. And Anne Pigalle was just as bewildering an offering. While Frankie singlehandedly ruled pop, defying Radio One’s banning of Relax to dominate the charts for months, Pigalle brought a more subdued French allure and introspection to the proceedings.

But though her album, Everything Could Be So Perfect, remains one of my favourites, for Anne it was a difficult birth. “The whole ZTT period feels like a messy time, ending in a divorce. I always felt artistically suffocated in that environment. I had ideas that were not understood.” Anne may have been misunderstood, but one can’t fault Paul Morley and Trevor Horn’s (co-founders of ZTT) good taste and clin d’eoil as they no doubt relished the audacity of launching a French chanteuse into a UK chart dominated by electronic and dance music. “I wanted to mix both cultures to create something new… that’s why I decided, after leaving ZTT, to produce my albums in the end, and the result is so much more successful.”

In 2011 Anne Pigalle released L’Âmérotica, enjoying the creative freedom and the chance to really put into music her current state of mind.  “This album was very experimental and linked to my visual work. I had great success with painting and photography, especially the 2006 show of Polaroid self-portraits called Âmérotica, which inspired many young ‘popsicles’. This developed into the 2013 Art CD Madame Sex, on which I used guitar and toys and the occasional piano.” This last offering is very DIY, with each cover individually hand painted, an album a friend producer in NYC refers to as “Anne Pigalle à la maison (at home).”

“My influences are always real life in terms of lyrics, so you have some romance there, some surrealism and some sex. In terms of music, it was important that it should be spontaneous.” Anne Pigalle’s recent shows in Soho deliver on that promise of surrealism and spontaneity. A live gig in the hallowed halls of the National Portrait Gallery saw her mix Baudelaire, Bowie and sexually suggestive poetry while at the Lights of Soho in Brewer Street, she opened her own birthday celebrations in typical Pigalle style with a rather morbid rendering of My Death by Brel, via Bowie. That famous Gallic charm was still alive.

“I don’t go out of my way to be provocative. Any stance that goes against the grain will be seen as provocative. I can only write and perform what I feel – it is never an exercise in style. Honesty is what shocks people most.” Famed for her trend-setting Nuits du Mercredi at the Cafe de Paris in the 80s, Anne Pigalle also recently launched a Soho concept night: La Nuit Amérotique. “I guess I was telling people to wake up, be less hedonistic, to unite under the banner of art music and freedom. It featured guests that had lived or worked in Soho. Of course it was also a comment about what I see around me, beautiful buildings full of history being destroyed.”

But this history under threat goes much further back than the neon lights and sex clubs Soho is now known for. “In the 17th century, Soho was called the French quarter. The spirit of freedom and Bohemia had filtered across from France. 40,000 French Huguenots came to Soho and Spitalfields, bringing with all types of knowledge, from silversmithing to medicine to the silk industry, as with the Courtauld family. Many people spoke French in Soho and used French currency. I read somewhere that England has never really acknowledged this debt – but, hey! I’m waiting for the Huguenot ghosts to have their say!”

David Abrahamovitch

David Abrahamovitch


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


“We were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked…”

Since his father died unexpectedly five years ago, leaving him with a dwindling mobile phone business on the Old Street roundabout, David Abrahamovitch has gone on to become one of the leading entrepreneurs on London’s café scene. Breathing new life into his father’s old phone shop – from which Shoreditch Grind was born – was just the start of David’s journey, one fuelled by passion for the coffee industry and a sense of possibility.

As we sit and discuss the ever-expanding Grind & Co., David demonstrates his newly developed Grind App, which enables customers to order their coffee en route and skip the queue. “It defaults to your nearest location; you select your coffee and customise it ready for collection,” he says. “It’s taken us so long to develop this. It’s primarily developed for takeaway, for the Londoner on the go.” He sips a piccolo as I down a flat white in the basement of Soho Grind. David, who’s also featured in Investec Private Banking’s Restless Spirits campaign, has his life centred around Soho and the West End; we discuss evenings spent at Soho House, the changing face of Beak Street and the café scene in the neighbourhood.

He was born into an entrepreneurial family. His father, also called David, operated a mobile phone business and bought the domain name mobilephones.com – a valuable asset – in the 1990s. On completing an economics degree at University College London, David helped found legal claims firm InterResolve, beginning his love affair with creating things. He met his business partner Kaz James, DJ and former band member of BodyRockers, at King’s Cross nightclub The Cross, and their friendship became the foundation of a new venture. Even with no previous experience in hospitality, the two were ambitious, with Australian James seeking to bring Melbourne’s café culture and love of independent coffee to London and David determined to take on major chains like Starbucks.

Their fledgling venture begun to take shape at what had been David’s father’s phone shop on the Old Street roundabout. “Essentially, my father left me with a declining mobile phone firm, that I had to turn around,” says David. “I worked in there when I was 13 with my Dad selling phones. After meeting Kaz, it became our first outlet, Shoreditch Grind. Kaz always went on about the coffee shops back home in Melbourne, and he and I joked about doing it here. Personally, I felt the building I’d inherited was a wasted opportunity. A number of times we had the conversation about turning it into a cafe or a bar, which turned into us opening a coffee shop.” This was nearly five years ago, before the boom in independent cafés, when if you knew what a flat white was you were in a minority.

Despite their inexperience David and Kaz were confident, believing they knew how to create a successful and popular café environment. The refit of David’s fathers shop began, with Shoreditch Grind opening in June 2011. “We were clueless about running a café. But we were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked,” says David. “We obsessed over the coffee, though there was so much we didn’t get right at first – and that’s why we built a team to help master those things. We employed young, interesting and vibrant people, who brought so much to the place. At first, we got the coffee right, but most of all the environment and vibe were key to the success of Shoreditch Grind.”

With the success of their first incarnation, David sought outside investment in order to fund the growth of Grind & Co. Settling on a deal with John Ayton (founder of Links of London) and private equity veteran Diarmid Ogilvy, David received an investment that topped £1M, and the planned expansion went ahead. Though admittedly Grind & Co. is a chain, David has stuck to his original vision of an independent cafe and aesthetic across all the Grind sites, with each new branch as on-trend as the others. To date, there are six shops across London, stretching from Shoreditch to Borough Market, and from Covent Garden to Holborn. In Soho, of course, there are two separate incarnations. A café by day and a speakeasy styled bar in the evening, Beak Street’s Soho Grind is one of the few places you can get a caffeine high by day and a decent tipple in the evening. Last summer saw the opening of Soho Grind X Soho Radio on Great Windmill Street, continuing Grind & Co.’s policy of opening cafes with a difference.

Having begun with the goal of creating amazing coffee in the right environments and locations to match people’s lifestyles, Grind & Co. has gone from strength to strength, moving from coffee to cocktails, to food, and now even a recording studio. David’s father is perhaps his greatest inspiration, and I can’t help but wonder what David Snr would think of the café that has replaced the shop where he once sold mobile phones alongside his young son. With their Royal Exchange site due to open in May this year, Grind & Co. looks to continue its expansion London-wide, with David expressing an interest in opening a Grind outpost in the US.

grind.co.uk

@grind

Milroy’s

Milroy’s


Words Jason Holmes

Photography Archives


“I think Soho is different, neither for better nor worse…”

As you drift up from the neon of Theatreland to encounter the landmarks of Kettner’s and Norman’s, Greek Street becomes a portal to the past, offering you a glimpse behind the arras of modernity. Here, the old and the new intertwine to form one of Soho’s many tableaux, and Greek Street possesses a sort of telescopic quality that sucks the visitor up to its northern end where, at No 3, sits one of the last great independents: Milroy’s of Soho.

As a shop founded in 1964 – and which today stocks approximately 500 whiskies alongside spirits, wine and beer – it’s a one-off establishment in a corner of Soho that evokes the forgotten embraces and vanished yearnings of a distant era. But with the area’s ongoing transformation providing cause for concern among the remaining independent traders, can such historic businesses as Milroy’s survive the changes?

“I don’t see why not,” says Angus Martin, the retail manager. “As long as independent traders are willing to adapt, that is. Things change and, if necessary, so must businesses. The key thing for me is preserving Soho’s character and sense of community, which I think is crucial in attracting people to the area.”

Martin is equally upbeat about the potential effects wrought by the nearby Crossrail project, which he hopes will make Soho a busier place. “The more people, the better. Plus, I’ll be able to get home faster!” Despite doom-laden proclamations in the national press about the permanent transformation, even loss, of Soho’s quintessential character, footfall throughout this historic quarter is increasing as the area becomes a prime location for residential real estate and leisure. The revival, for which Soho has long waited, is underway as restaurants and cafés have begun to appear on street corners that once languished in twilight.

But how has Soho changed over the years since Milroy’s was founded in 1964? “I think Soho is different, neither for better nor worse. Soho still has a strong community feel which should be celebrated, and if a facelift brings more people into the area, then that’s great.” Martin adds that the charm of Soho is its hedonistic history: “Watering that down too much would be a shame, as I think it still lures people in.”

When Soho habitué Francis Bacon declared, “Real pain for your sham friends, champagne from your real friends,” he knew whereof he spoke. But the era of the hard-drinking artist is receding, as a 21st century Soho becomes a place where financial acumen supersedes the struggles of the starving bohemian. Things change, and Martin attributes the enduring success of Milroy’s to “never being afraid to embrace change”. He says he has been proactive in utilising the “knowledge, passion and approachability” that have been what he calls “the secrets of Milroy’s 50 years of success in the business”.

“Over our history, we have been a wine shop, sherry mart, whisky shop and a wholesaler, often flipping between different priorities depending on demand. We’ve recently put the [whisky] bars back in, which we had in the 1970s; that, I believe, has added another string to our bow. Plus we increasingly sell online.” Martin believes that Milroy’s appeal has been maintained by being a tourist destination. “The key is not to stagnate and to constantly innovate, whilst celebrating our heritage. We’ve always sold whisky. However, in our history we have often sold more wine than whisky. Due to our location, shelf space will always be a challenge, so we try to adapt to what our customers want. Currently, that’s whisky – and lots of it.” So small is beautiful? “People go out of their way to visit us to try some whisky, share some knowledge and buy a bottle. I think that is part of our appeal. Being independent is very important to us.”

 

What does he think of the capital’s currenmt cocktail boom? “I’m not sure that the cocktail boom is pervasive or gimmicky: tastes change with each generation. Personally, if mixology is introducing people to new spirits, then I’m all for it. In fact, the cocktail boom has done wonders for American whiskey and Scotch whisky alike. But I’m not sure the closing down of pubs, however sad, is related to the enduring appeal of whisky.” Perhaps, then, it’s a question of taste, no more, no less: the drink, the shop and the area, all contribute to the appeal of a London many are fearful will be lost in the march of time.

No doubt the loyalty of Milroy’s large overseas clientele is attributable to this sense of continuity; loyalty, says Martin, comes high on his list of priorities. “Customer loyalty is very much at the heart of what we do. It is absolutely mandatory, and we love the fact that we get to know our customers very well over the years. Many have become firm friends.” Milroy’s and Greek Street – perhaps the most characterful of all Soho’s streets – shall be forever linked, the thoroughfare graven and worn with time, the shoulders of its buildings sloping with the weight of years. Moving from here would be a wrench. “We’ve been here for 51 years,” says Martin, “although we used to have a shop on Beak Street too. But we aren’t considering moving any time soon. Back in 1964, I don’t know what the motivation was to open a shop on Greek Street over busier streets such as Old Compton or Wardour. Jack Milroy worked in Kettner’s before opening Milroy’s, so maybe that’s the reason. “We love our location and we would never want to leave Soho. Greek Street has had many new openings over the past couple of years, and now it feels like an exciting time to be here.”

Raw

Raw


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Ross Becker


“I’ve always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific.”

Famed for work that often reflected the human spirit’s boundless capacity for self-destruction, Francis Bacon’s relationship with Soho was an important and appropriate one. And nothing better exemplifies the artist’s love of the aesthetic and desire to capture the human in motion than the time he spent at Muriel Belcher’s The Colony Room at 41 Dean Street. But how did Bacon come to frequent this exclusive establishment that also played host to the likes of Jeffrey Bernard and Peter O’Toole? Well, the simple answer is this; he was the owner’s “daughter”.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Although he was born in Dublin, Bacon’s family relocated to London in 1914 to accommodate his father’s work with the Territorial Force Records Office. Bacon later attributed the strong references to violence in his work to this early experience of war, saying that: “I was brought to London during the war and spent quite a lot of time there, because my father was in the War Office then, and I was made aware of what is called the possibility of danger even at a very young age.” Danger would follow him back home after the war as well: “I went back to Ireland and was brought up during the Sinn Fein movement.” As an artist who saw painting as a way of reporting on the human condition, Bacon wasn’t surprised that some saw his work as being full of horrors. He “always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific.”

The inter-war years saw Bacon travelling, from Dublin to London, from Paris to Berlin. The primary cause of this vagrancy was his sexuality. In 1926, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer Bacon walked in on his son to witness the 15 year old modelling his mother’s underwear in front of a mirror. That was the final straw, and efforts were made to ‘make a man’ of young Francis, including farming him out to family friend Harcourt-Smith. Suffice to say, the two men spent their time sharing a double bed at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin – hardly the life lessons his father had in mind. “’We settled in Berlin for a time, it must have been 1926, and by way of education I found myself in the atmosphere of the Blue Angel.” The reference to the 1930 German film conjures up images of sexual promiscuity, decadence and punishment. After spending two months in Berlin, Francis decided to head to Paris. Harcourt-Smith had by now “grown tired” of him and “went off with a woman”. It was in France that Francis began to discover his true flair for painting; learning from masters such as Valazquez and Poussin, he began developing his own distinctly modern style out of a classical technique.

After a year and a half, he returned to London and set up a studio to work in. Unfortunately, prosperity did not follow – not least because World War II broke out not long after. The resourceful Bacon, however, had a trick up his sleeve to deal with this distraction: when conscription became mandatory, he borrowed a dog from Harrods and slept beside it for a night. Bacon suffered from asthma. Suffice to say, the dog hair worked wonders on ruining his health, and when it came time for his medical, he was in no fit state to fight for King and country. Instead, London in wartime became for him what he called a “sexual gymnasium”– blackouts provided particularly useful cover for him to engage in taboo acts; “Yes, and married men too,” he would joke.

And so we come to 1948 and the birth of a private members’ club in the heart of Soho, created mostly as a way to avoid strict licensing laws. Green was the colour chosen for the walls, an inspiration arising from that most potent beverage – the devil in a bottle – absinth. To enter into the tiny attic room you first had to climb a staircase lined with putrid bins. On the opening day of this less-than-esteemed establishment, Francis was to instantaneously become a permanent member. Muriel Belcher did not care for art, but she liked artists, mostly because they are usually last people who want to talk about art when trying to relax. It helped that Francis had some links with fame and fortune too. Muriel paid Francis £10 a week for him to “bring people you like”, and he would often spend £10 a week on the bar bill. Although free drinks were involved in his Colony Room ‘pay packet’, he was a strong advocate of picking up the tab: “real pain for sham friends,” he would announce, “and champagne for real friends.”

The clientele Bacon attracted to the Colony came in the form of other personalities from the art world; the most important of these were Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and Tim Behrens, a group that very soon became known as ‘Muriel’s boys’. She had a way with names: ‘cunts’ were those she disliked, those she liked were given the sobriquet of ‘cunty’, those she really liked were ‘Marys’; but only one received the highest honour, and this was reserved for Francis, for he was Muriel’s ‘Daughter’. In return, Muriel was honoured to be the subject of three portraits by Francis: his Three Studies for a portrait of Muriel Belcher. She was a woman of such complexity that her multiple personality traits demanded to be represented in multiple ways. 

All was not as it seemed however, and Francis Bacon did not always find comfort and solitude as centre of attention at the Colony. His friend Daniel Farson remembers clues that betrayed the tortured soul of the artist: “When he wandered off to the lavatory with his glass in his hand as if he could not bear to part with it, when he threw the contents away; he drank less while filling the glasses of those around him.” Other times, a discomfort with his self-made notoriety was expressed in more destructive forms. “An artist… came into the Colony one afternoon to present the club with his latest painting, which was still wet. This generous gesture was accepted politely until Francis made his entrance. He shook his bottle of champagne, aiming it at the picture, whose colours dissolved into an even more frightful mess than it was in the first place.” Of course this did not distract from a sometimes charitable and supportive side. “One afternoon an art student naively showed him a leaflet he had produced. Francis asked if he could buy a copy, adding that he would be grateful if the young man would sign it for him.”

Of the numerous private members clubs that sprouted in Soho after the wars, Muriel’s was different, and this is due in no small part to Francis Bacon. It was a place for those who identified as misfits, outsiders. With a lesbian proprietor and openly homosexual founding member, the Colony Room provided a safe space for those who wanted to remove themselves, even for a short time, from the norms of society and spotlight of modern celebrity – a true escape from the horrors of the world reflected in Francis’s art. It has been almost four decades since Muriel Belcher passed away, almost 25 since the death of Francis Bacon, and, despite outliving its founders, the Colony Room finally shut its doors in 2008. But the spirit of freedom from societal oppression can still be found in the nooks and crannies of Soho. The flame of decadence still burns, and sexuality is, if anything, more fluid and openly expressed than ever before. When Bacon shuffled off this mortal coil and the Colony Room closed its doors, it wasn’t the end of the flamboyance they had distilled: Francis and Muriel had shared it around in all its rawness, and their values – once hidden – have become values still to be found in Soho to this day.

Maison Bertaux

Maison Bertaux


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


“The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871…”

Maison Bertaux in Soho. To a confirmed Cappuccino Kid, it looked much more suitable for tea and cake. Should you judge a book by its cover? Can you judge a café by its cake? I met the editor, the chocolate éclair was superb, and in an upstairs room, the art was raw and the decor retro. It was Soho Bohemia, and certainly not twee. “One of the reasons the cakes are so nice now, we never bastardised the recipes. We never went over to sponge mix or anything like that, all the shortcuts you can do with pastries. Everything is made upstairs. There’s nothing in here that’s not made here,” says Michele Ward, the current owner.

“Even some of the staff are made here, conceived here,” she adds cryptically, with a laugh. “The cakes and recipes are the key. The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871.” Maison Bertaux, a Soho institution: I’d seen it reviewed and revered, but had never been. I even knew they once had a shop called Shop in the basement run by part time pop stars. Now I sit with Michele and, in between coffee and croissants, the story begins to emerge: how Monsieur Eduard Bertaux came here from France and began to write the first chapter in a great Soho story. The doors first opened in 1871 and Maison Bertaux has been here ever since; in 145 years, it has been owned by just three families.

“In 1909, Bertaux put it up for sale with an advert in the Paris Soir, a daily newspaper in Paris, and a Monsieur Vignaud came and took over. It was his son that I worked for. When I was in my teens, in the late 1970s, I only worked on Saturdays. Then I went to college; then I worked a little bit. I studied theatre, went to RADA and by the time I left I had a lot of jobs and a little money. Madame said she wanted to sell the business and I thought, to run a cake shop, that would be lovely.” Madame was Madame Vignaud, an Englishwoman who’d met her husband on a blind date. “At first, she said ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ But I managed to raise the money and bought the business in 1988. I worked side by side with Madame Vignaud for such a long time. She was very strict and very severe, but she was good to work with, she was always the same. She didn’t have any flowers or anything in here. She had a white apron with a zip up the middle – she was completely no nonsense, which was good. She was a good person. She believed in the quality – it was all about the quality.

“The way I tie the cake boxes. I still tie them in the way Madame Vignaud taught me. She was taught by Mr Vignaud snr, who was taught by Mr Bertaux. I like the idea that in 1871 someone was here tying the boxes in the same way I do it now.” Steeped in history but not stuck in the past, Maison Bertaux has moved with the times. Michele tells me about the famous chefs who come for tea with their mothers before the theatre, and the kitchen staff of numerous famous food establishments who are regulars at this petit Maison. As the night-time economy in Soho has grown, Maison Bertaux now stays open until 10pm on weekdays and 11pm at the weekends.

“Soho’s got later and later. When I was young we used to close at 5.30 – there wasn’t any business after that – but now we are very busy from 5.30 onwards. Sometimes we’re very busy after 8 o’clock. I remember in 1992, sitting outside at a long table and making everyone pasta. There weren’t many people around. Someone was playing the guitar, strumming and singing along. It was almost like a little village.” Soho hasn’t lost its edge for Michele. She still sees that young gay man on his own, new to London, new to Soho, arriving in Maison Bertaux – although perhaps not so often since Central St Martins moved. Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue, McQueens from different eras… in the 60s it was Steve; in the 90s it was Alexander, sitting upstairs furiously sketching, inviting Michele and her sister Tania to see his first collection. Although Michele misses the students from Central St Martins, she wonders where they would sit now. No regrets, she says, as the Maison fills up again with young Asian, Chinese and Japanese girls. Michele stows their Rimowa ribbed luggage cases safely out of the way for them, as they look a bit nervous.

“We have a big Oriental clientele. We’re very lucky. A lot of students, they appreciate cakes and things. I love all the customers – even the tricky ones.” She’s the perfect host, looking after everyone, keeping up a natural flow of conversation with customers from different tables and different lives, with different reasons to be cheerful, or not, as the case may be. Maison Berteaux is full of Soho’s spirit, the drama of daily life. There are chairs recycled from Kettner’s famous champagne restaurant round the corner, and a table that Edward VII played cards at. Paintings by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding – tribal faces in bright colours, strong powerful pieces – hang on the walls of the rooms and up and down the stairs. ”My sister looks after all the art. She met Noel Fielding in the street outside.” Across the road, a new breed may claim the title, but this is a real Soho house. Although I don’t drink tea, I’ve found a new Soho stop – a Maison that’s been a second home to many Soho denizens over the years.

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“In those days, place was everything. You couldn’t find your tribe unless you went out the door…”

He explains to me, “Now, you can find it on your laptop. In those days you couldn’t.”Gary Kemp is talking about the reality of his youth. He goes on to say that where the internet has triumphed, the place has died out. “Any important youth movement was based around a place. Our place was Billy’s, The Blitz Club and then Le Beat Route club.”Guitarist and chief songwriter for new wave band, Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp unravels his own youth at the epicentre of the new romantic era and the origins of Spandau Ballet here on the streets of Soho.

Born and raised into a working class family, Gary grew up alongside his brother and fellow bandmate, Martin Kemp, in a council house in Islington. Kemp began acting in 1968, appearing on TV and film from an early age. When he was just 11, his parents bought him a guitar that they’d seen on Holloway Road, for Christmas. “I still can’t work out to this day why my father thought it was a good idea” he says, “but it was an immediate epiphany of wanting to write songs from the age of 11. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs so instead I wrote my own. I think in truth I quite like being alone, I quite like the company of a guitar. When you’re a creative person, you sort of make your own friends, whether it’s a piece of art or a song.” Here, moving away from acting, Kemp began to concentrate on a music career.

Kemp began his relationship with Soho as a youngster. The neighbourhood has been an integral part of his life–forward from his upbringing and into his career as a musician and songwriter. During the 1960s, after a screening of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’at what was then The Cinerama on St. Martins Lane (now London Coliseum), Gary’s mother and father walked him and his brother through Soho for the very first time. “My father was completely confused by the artistry of Stanley Kubrick’s movie,”he says. “On the way back, we walked through Soho to get a bus. In those days it was incredibly seedy. There were pictures everywhere of various models and naked women. I remember having this red face. There was this silence in the Kemp family; my parents were old working class Islington people, and anything remotely to do with sex wasn’t spoken about. I remember Soho having this danger about it.” And, of course, inevitably post-pubescent Kemp was quite excited by the place, unlike the child who had seen it in the mid-sixties.

Kemp recalls his first solo trip to Soho as a teenager very clearly. “I went to buy a pair of trousers that looked like the pair Bowie had on the back of the Hunky Dory album sleeve, sort of big loons, and then I bought one of those long-sleeved big scoop neck t-shirts covered with stars trying to look all glam-rock”he says. On another later visit, he attended a David Bowie gig at The Marquee Club when it was based on Wardour Street, Bowie’s last ever gig in Soho. After the gig, The 1980 Floor Show, he wandered with a girl and some of his friends about the streets of 1970s Soho, which was to be his first real glimpse of the neighbourhood. “I really felt it that day. There was this frisson of sexuality in Soho when wandering around its streets.”

With music becoming an ever-prevalent part of his life, he was quick to form a band with school friends, called The Gentry. His brother, Martin, who was more a sportsman than musician, was later to join the band as a bassist. The band started to make their mark on Soho’s club scene, and Kemp regards Billy’s as the club that changed everything. At this venue, the band became acquainted with the late Steve Strange – who, in 1978, began organising ‘Bowie Nights’, a club night that was later moved to The Blitz Club. At this time, The Blitz had been a normal wine bar in Great Queen Street. Soon, a mass of outrageously dressed former punks, soul boys, rockabillies and art students descended on the club. Thanks to Steve Strange and ‘Princess’ Julia Fodor, The Blitz Club became a thriving realm of creativity – the beginning of the Blitz kids. “Soho was a very scary place for us to dress up in,” says Gary. “We’d arrive looking like space men from the 1920s. There were teddy boys, punks and skin heads patrolling the area. To me it was just full of rats and old rubbish. It was very, very seedy.”

The Blitz was a collective – the most out-there of former punks. It became a hotbed of talent for new music and fashion. The club boasted an array of rising pop-stars, from Boy George to Steve Strange. After a friend of the band, DJ Robert Elms, saw a phrase scribbled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin, The Gentry was to be renamed Spandau Ballet and became a staple act of the club. “Steve Dagger and I decided this was our time. I bought a synthesiser and wrote what became the first album. We became a household band. We’re more of a 70s band, really – the blue plaque is still there where The Blitz Club was, to say we played our first gig there in 1979.”

Their first album, ‘Journeys to Glory’ (1981), propelled Spandau into the limelight, with subsequent albums seeing them rise to worldwide fame. “Our band started on the steps of a club in Soho. As the band succeeded, became globalised, and our lifestyles changed, so did Soho,”he says. During the 1980s, Spandau Ballet’s success went from strength to strength, with Kemp writing many of the band’s early hits in his parents’council house. In 1990, the band split –the same year that both Gary and Martin Kemp appeared in lead roles in The Krays, with Gary starring as Ronnie Kray.

Tensions between the former band mates spiraled over the publishing rights to songs, with singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and saxophone player Steve Norman taking legal action against Kemp. “There were various no-go areas on the map in fear that we might run into each other,”he says. “The day I won the court case was the same day the Admiral Duncan was bombed in 1999. I thought to myself, ‘my band is destroyed and somebody is trying to bomb Soho back to the dark days’. It was a bad day. Nobody really won, I just didn’t lose.”

With Gary taking on a number of acting roles in-between living his life and having children, 19 years since Spandau’s break-up had soon passed. “I was remixing a live DVD of the band about 10 years ago and I couldn’t believe the legacy of the band. I felt that the records that got played on the radio weren’t a true representation of the band and what we were best at. We gave a good show, my God we were good, and we had so much fun.” In 2009, the band reformed, with their coming together documented in ‘Soul Boys of the Western World’ (2014), which Kemp co-produced.

After a nine-month world tour and relationships between band members stronger than ever, Fitzrovia-based Kemp expresses a desire to record a new album and continue to play live. At present, he is starring in the suitably entitled play ‘The Homecoming’by Harold Pinter, directed by Jamie Lloyd, at the Trafalgar Studios. And Kemp is walking to work, through his old haunt of Soho, six days a week until the end of its run in February.

 

Mark Hix

Mark Hix


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“There are a lot more restaurants and different styles of cuisine in Soho. You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here…”

In and around our city, Hix restaurants have taken up home in some of London’s most evocative locations. From Smithfield Market to Shoreditch and, of course, Soho, celebrated chef, restaurateur and food writer Mark Hix is renowned for his original take on British gastronomy and firm thumb on the London restaurant scene.

With an exceptional knowledge of ingredients with provenance, Mark Hix is frequently lauded as one of London’s most eminent restaurateurs. He has a monthly column in Esquire, a weekly column in The Independent, and is the author of a number of cookbooks on British cuisine.

Hix was born in West Bay, Bridport, about 10 miles down the coast from Lyme Regis, where he now owns a restaurant. “I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid,” he says. “When you’re brought up by the seaside, you never do. I spent a lot of my time swimming, fishing and playing golf, but I just took it all for granted.” When he moved to London, where he still lives, he became distant from the coast that’d been at the centre of his upbringing. “I go down to Dorset about three times a month now to keep an eye on the business and have a bit of time out,” he says. “I really appreciate the area now – there’s nowhere else like it.”

After spending 17 years at Caprice Holdings as Chef Director, Hix made the decision in 2008 to go solo –opening his first restaurant, the well established Hix Oyster & Chop House in Smithfield. Following the success of his first restaurant, he has since gone on to open a further seven establishments, including Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, the chicken and steak concept restaurant, Tramshed, in Shoreditch, and the well-known HIX Soho.

Hix has known his business partner, Ratnesh Bagdai, since the beginning of his restaurant career at Caprice Holdings, where Bagdai worked as finance director “In 2008 we heard about a site opportunity we couldn’t resist and got together to open Hix Oyster & Chop House”. The two decided to make the break, with the first Hix Restaurant appearing on the London restaurant scene. “I resigned and at the same time Rocco Forte asked me if I’d do a restaurant in Brown’s Hotel (Hix Mayfair). Suddenly, we had that and the Oyster and Chop House.”

With the success of Hix Restaurants in full swing, it wasn’t long before Hix came to launch another venture in Soho –the eponymous Hix Soho. The restaurant opened its doors five years ago to much acclaim, despite being surrounded by hefty competition such as Chris and Jeremy’s Zedel. The restaurant business is a funny old world – just when you think consolidation is the order of the day, the opportunity to acquire a great new site comes up and you find that you cannot turn it down” says Mark. “And what I mean by a ‘great site’ is this: somewhere where you don’t have to dig too deep into your pockets to do a good refurbishment, which has the added bonus of being a perfect central location.”

Mark has always had a relatively simple approach to food and cuisine, with each of his restaurants themselves having happened organically when the time and location were a perfect match. Hix has a hard and fast rule: no more than three main ingredients on the plate. “Then there’s the seasonal element, obviously. We tend not to mess around with the food too much. It’s just about showing off the main ingredient. Sometimes you only get one ingredient on the plate, so it’s just about being simple and carefully sourcing the ingredients.”While each restaurant has its own distinct character, they all share the same experience of simple British cooking.

Mark Hix has long been an advocate of the Soho neighbourhood and its restaurant scene, citing Soho as, historically, the capital of London dining. Hix has watched the various as different styles of cuisine have come and gone over the years in Soho, an area once saturated with Italian restaurants.“You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here,”he says. “It attracts a lot of good chefs and restaurateurs – the business is there. I remember, when I was working at Le Caprice, Quaglino’s opened, and we all wondered where everyone was going to come from for a big restaurant like that. But now there are so many restaurants and they all seem to be busy. There are obviously more people eating out because there is more choice –I don’t know where they used to go in the old days.”With Hixter Bankside having opened its doors July last year, I remain curious as to the next location of one of Hix’s restaurants. Whatever the case, it is certain his place as one of London’s most prolific restaurateurs is set in stone.

 

David Newell

David Newell


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”

      David Newell’s mantra: does your suit speak for you? To David, a well-cut suit or jacket should enhance the features of the wearer and disclose flaws. His tailoring is likened to the precision of a plastic surgeon: reflecting and highlighting the persona of the subject.

Though born and raised in Birmingham in the 1970s, growing up, David felt the city’s grey and industrial backdrop was at odds with the creative instincts he wanted to pursue. Fortunately, his father, who had come to England from Jamaica in the 1950s was a picture of sartorial elegance and provided ample inspiration to help shape David’s ambitions. David’s first experience of Soho in the 80s had him totally hooked; he had set foot into the creative powerhouse of the world. He soon moved to London to live with his brother, to pursue his creative mission. “Soho was changing when I first came here and it will continue to change, mutate and evolve,” he says. “Therefore, in a strange way, nothing has changed!”

Newell began his career in fashion working for Michiko Koshino in the early 90s, later heading up the Gieves & Hawkes flagship concession store in Selfridges. He worked there for almost 10 years, running the most profitable business per square feet in the company. His success there spurred him onto bigger ideas. Newell wanted to become an entrepreneur in tailoring and begin his own business. During his decade-long tenure at Gieves & Hawkes, David had measured thousands of clients. This nurtured his ability to instinctively recognise combinations of measurements – which he would then feed back to his pattern cutter in order to achieve the desired look, style and fit his clients were after.

“I studied International Product Design at Central Saint Martins for four years, so I was designing accessories for Michiko Koshino way before I started sartorial design,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the institute of Savile Row, as I have learnt from the best and now have my own vision from looking through centuries of sartorial tradition. My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”

All established Soho tailors are defined by their own distinct vision, style and values. When starting up Newell Bespoke, David aspired to create an understated style: a quietly confident look with a kick of insolence. And declaring himself to be “in amore” with Italian tailoring, Newell singles out one notable talent that had a huge impact on his career: Soho’s own Raffaele Candilio. “He was a great influence on my take of Italian tailoring. He would show me how they worked back in Napoli and how jackets in particular are constructed in comparison to the English methods,” he explains. “We would have fruitful debates on which method was best. A lot of high voices and higher arm-waving – priceless!”

While Candilio preferred the softer Italian chic style, Newell sides with the more contemporary, structured British look. He has a good understanding of what it takes to successfully conduct a sartorial consultation, determining his clients’ needs and requirements – which he is able to skilfully interpret in order to achieve the desired suit. “There is no use in a beautifully crafted suit if it doesn’t fit right” Newell says. “You can have the best tailor in the world, but if the measurements aren’t correct, all you’ll end up with is a beautifully-made, ill-fitting suit – and what’s the point in that?”

Select clients of his include Formula One racing driver and 2015 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, and American actor and songwriter, Jamie Foxx. Newell Bespoke operates from a small studio space on Dean Street, right in the centre of Soho, a place he shared with Candilio up until his death. Stooped in Neapolitan history, the studio is set within Candilio’s classical Italian tailor’s workshop. And Newell assures me that Soho will always run through the DNA of his brand. “Soho is the trunk of the brand. Although I strive to have many branches beyond Soho, this, in turn, will grow my roots stronger in Soho,” he says. “Newell Bespoke is passionate about making its world a smarter place, almost like a crusade, preaching the sartorial faith to the un-initiated.”

His rich source of inspiration, coupled with Italian sartorial influences, has enabled Newell to develop a multitude of styles and cuts in order to create the perfect look for all of his clients. From the traditions of Savile Row to the likes of fellow Soho tailor, Mark Powell, David has developed into a tailor that asks one question: “Does your suit speak for you?” His vision and his aim is to make sure the answer is always yes.

Cathi Unsworth

Cathi Unsworth


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I can still remember the thrill of going down the steps to Gerry’s for the first time and the secret life of this alluringly small and smoky basement club unfolding in front of me…”

On the drabbest of winter nights, the recollections of a forgotten Soho engulf the top floor of the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place. The Sohemian Society has transported the pub and its guests back to a time and place where characters inhaled louche living and exhaled intrigue. Among tonight’s guests, crime author Cathi Unsworth has already captivated the audience, if only with her remarkable look… a teleported likeness of Ruth Ellis meets Pat Phoenix as painted by Tretchikoff. Reading from her current book, Without the Moon, she drops us into 1940s London: blackouts, the Blitz and grotesque murders. In her work, Derek Raymond’s acid bite and languid swagger collide with Patrick Hamilton’s fluent sense of place and time, and you quickly understand why Unsworth has established herself at the forefront of the new generation of crime fiction writers.

But Cathi’s interest in London, and in particular, the darker pockets of Soho, can be traced back to an adolescent crush. Her initial introduction to the area happened not in person but through an album that brought Soho’s seamier side to enchanting life. “I was 13 years old and lived miles away in Norfolk but I had a record player and a copy of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret by Soft Cell. It filled my head with romance, decadence and sleaze, a land of bedsitters, nightclubs and strip joints, an inter-zone where the great and good went to get down and dirty…”

“When I listen to it now, it seems like a novel, about a youngster from the provinces heading for the Smoke and both losing and finding themselves in Soho. As if Billy Liar – whose author, Keith Waterhouse incidentally started out from the same place as Soft Cell – actually did get on that train from Leeds, and met Crepe Suzette from Colin MacInness’ Absolute Beginners. Now I’ve learned more about Soho’s history, I see myriad resonances. Soft Cell were spiritually akin to writers like Waterhouse and MacInnes who also made Soho their home. I was lucky enough to interview both Marc Almond and Keith Waterhouse, which were two of the greatest thrills in my life as a journalist.”

From the age of 19 to 26 Cathi Unsworth worked as a music journalist on Sounds and then Melody Maker. “I spent those years on Charing Cross Road running between The Astoria, The LA II, The Borderline and The Marquee.” Sadly, only one of those venues remains today, and the NME is the only print survivor. This speaks volumes of the changes happening in the area. “All that dumbing down of pop culture and the way it’s sold has not been good for anyone. And Soho’s reputation as the refuge of the outsider is genuinely under threat, I think.”

One outsider whose work marked Cathi was the noir novelist Derek Raymond. “He was like the Johnny Rotten of literature – angry, outspoken and on the side of the mistreated. His book I Was Dora Suarez was about a tragic girl who worked in Soho and could easily have featured in Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.”

Cathi met Raymond when he made an album based on that book with the band Gallon Drunk. “He lured me into a life of crime fiction. He also lured me into what he referred to as ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ – The Coach and Horses pub, The French House and, most importantly, Gerry’s Club. I can still remember the thrill of going down the steps to Gerry’s for the first time and the secret life of this alluringly small and smoky basement club unfolding in front of me…”

Cathi recreates this subterranean enclave in her first novel, The Not Knowing, with good reason. The landlord, Michael Dillon, hired her and she worked there for two years, soaking up the surroundings. In the book, a young journalist is shown into the thinly disguised ‘Deansgate Club’, complete with a landlord who is obviously Dillon. Her Soho education was continuing apace. “The members in those days included so many from the Soho in the Fifties world, including Dan Farson himself, Waterhouse, Bruce Bernard and many other stars of the page, stage, screen and sports… I got to hear a lot of folklore.”

The weirdest stories were the ones that inspired her writing. It was the beginning of a fascination for documenting strange but true crimes, largely set in London’s underbelly. In Cathi’s books, the unloved and the unsolved have a friend and the unknown an enemy: a bleary eye of providence peering through the fog. “One of these was the unsolved case of the so-called ‘Jack the Stripper’ murders, which happened between 1959-63 and which I turned into a book called Bad Penny Blues. Which was brought on by a non-fiction account of the murders, Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook. A shocking book in many ways, which opened my eyes to the fact that where I live in Ladbroke Grove was once the biggest red light district in London and all these women either lived or worked there. I tried to do something for their memories that was better than the treatment they had received in life, death and the literary afterlife.”

Despite what was then the biggest manhunt in Metropolitan Police history, the killer vanished into thin air and one of the many urban myths was the actual identity of Jack… “I’d heard it might be the former heavyweight boxer Freddie Mills, who himself died in very mysterious circumstances, outside the restaurant he owned in Soho in 1965.” Cathi doesn’t think he was culprit, but such folktales spurred her to inventing her own solution.

Without The Moon is also based on two true crime stories, one of which also remains unsolved, and quite bizarrely so. “I wanted to investigate the case of Gordon Cummins, the ‘Blackout Ripper’, a trainee RAF pilot who murdered four women and attempted to kill another two in one frenzied week in February 1942.” No sooner had she started when a historian called Nick Pelling offered Cathi his own research into a crime that took place just days after Cummins was caught – the murder of a woman called Maragret McArthur on Waterloo Bridge, which was, unbelievably, still under construction in 1942, despite the Blitz. “A Canadian soldier had been arrested with the woman’s handbag on him, was tried but acquitted – despite solid evidence he was the murderer. Nick had no luck discovering what happened to him next, so he very kindly let me have a go at finding a plausible solution in the parallel world of my fiction.”

Soho looms large in Without the Moon “The detective who investigated the Cummins case used to like to hang out in a jazz club on Archer Street, which was also popular with journalists and villains – a perfect place to start casting around for the supporting actors who bring the whole period back to life.” Cathi used the same methods she’d employed on Bad Penny Blues to write Without The Moon: she relived that time period through its art. “My soundtrack was the sublime big band swing of 1942. I watched as many films and read as much popular literature of the day as I could, until I felt I had stepped into that world. Which is why this sort of writing is so addictive and, with so many centuries of stories woven into its bricks and mortar, Soho is the perfect setting…” Cathi Unsworth’s Without the Moon is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Cloth House

Cloth House


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


“There are treasures to be discovered everywhere you look.”

I’d always been slightly intrigued by the window displays on Berwick Street, up near the Oxford Street end. What exactly went on at the Cloth House? Was it an undercover meeting spot for a secret tie-die society of Soho, or a triad of sewing ninjas who specialised in reading illegible messages printed on the squares of delicate fabrics strung along lines in the window? “The collection is sourced all over the world. It is an inspiring mixture of new and vintage products, always changing, and carefully curated.”

I’d always walked past, despite being a man of the cloth myself. Brought up in the land of wool, tweed, and cashmere I spent many an afternoon from a young age in material shops, factory stores and mill shops, waiting while my Mother picked skirt lengths, yards and metres of cloth to make her own clothes from paper Burda, sometime Vogue patterns. The whirr of the sewing machine, brown paper shapes being laid and pinned onto cloth, pinking shears cutting through cloth, it was a regular feature of my childhood home. These shops were filled with older women, or younger girls who looked like they wanted to be older. My parents eventually opened their own fabric store, and I helped with the buying. Trips to warehouses in Edinburgh, cloth merchants in Manchester became part of my days, helping out in the shop when I could. It was just something I did.

In Soho the Cloth House seemed to have been there forever. “Cloth House is a family run business established in 1984 by husband and wife Jay and Niki. We are one of the original Cloth Stores in Soho and have been in the street for over 25 years. Many things on the street have changed over the years, but the fabric shops are what Berwick Street is famous for, and we feel part of the original Soho.” One day I walked in. This wasn’t the remnant kings of my childhood, the shop felt bright, felt vibrant, felt right. Whitewashed brick walls, wooden floor, and rolls and rolls of cloth. Tubes of buttons in old wooden furniture, the shop was busy and there was a buzz about it. Young girls buying, and the staff, young girls selling. Bikes parked in tucked away corners and up on platform mezzanines. This was the spot for fresh faced girls who made their own clothes for cycling down country lanes, or at least cycling home from Soho through Clerkenwell to London Fields. Spots, daisies and repeat pattern prints on the dresses they had sewn themselves.

“Our customers range from home sewers and crafters, to design students, clothing and costume designers for film and theatre. We have such a wide range of customers, it’s always inspiring to hear about what visions each individual has for a material – one customer may imagine a material into a jacket, whilst another might plan for a quilted blanket and cushion from the same fabric. We love to see what’s been fashioned from our materials. Every week we meet new sewers and first time visitors to our shop, and every week we see old customers and friends who have been buying from us since the 80s! Many of our customers are from overseas. Being in London we have a large fashion student clientele. We’re also lucky to meet fashion students who visit us from all over the UK, and the world! Our student customers never fail to surprise and inspire, manipulating our products to create their vision. Some of our staff members are also current fashion students, and the majority of our staff have completed fashion/textile courses.”

You could see it was the spot for fashion students putting together their toiles and their graduate pieces at Central St. Martins Though now not so central over in Kings Cross, once it had stood as a cornerstone of Soho looming over Charing Cross Road. “Cloth House stocks a huge variety of beautiful fabrics, but we are perhaps best known for our collection of cottons and linens. From hand printed cotton to washed linen and crisp denim we have a huge variety of natural cloths. The Japanese and Indian collections are perhaps some of the most beautiful, unusual and inspiring fabrics. It is important for a shop to have personality. A unique feature of Cloth House is the vast mixture within the shop. Japanese materials sit next to French, and beautiful polyesters drape alongside crisp cottons. The longer you look, the more you will find, from the bejewelled Indian sari trims to vintage buttons.”

The fabric selection at The Cloth House is inspiring and stunning. Cottons, poplins, chambray and selvedge denim, prints that I kept thinking would look great on a shirt. “I think it’s possible to walk into Cloth House with absolutely no idea or inspiration, and find a print or a texture that really gets you thinking and wanting to design and make.”

There is huge choice, a massive selection. The staff provide friendly smiles and hellos and group themselves around the till. Down the stairs and others hold court over small batches of girls in the corners, helpfully, and with a smile offering advice, choices and options. It’s a happy place, a happy atmosphere, I had to stop myself from smiling. “Our staff are always available to help and inspire. All of our staff have a creative background/interest, and one of the most fun aspects of the job is discussing projects with customers, and coming up with creative ideas and solutions. We offer a sample service for customers where we send out swatches and take telephone orders. We have a blog for textile inspiration and making ideas and recently started a ‘what are you making?’thread where we invite customers to send us images of their creations using Cloth House materials. To inspire and be inspired is such a rewarding part of this creative industry, customers like to share pictures on Instagram and email us.”

Wandering amongst the props around the shop, you might find girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, others with the knowledge to tell you what the pattern is or piles of old books that are tied up with string, but these are not my favourite things. In the Cloth House it is definitely the cloth. The fabric, a social fabric that brings together a fresh young sewing circle of people to Soho, at the House of Cloth.

 

 

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I love the romance of old Soho, it’s a world I never knew and that had vanished before I was born…”

Martin Freeman tells me upstairs at Little Italy on Frith Street. “…so I look back and, of course, I romanticise it.” We’re across the street from Ronnie Scott’s, the spiritual home of British jazz, and Freeman is cutting a sharp, pensive figure in wayfarers and loafers that wrap a tattoo across the tiled floor and make him look as if he’s travelled back in time from 1966 to take a look at what has become of old Soho. A waiter appears and pours him a glass of mineral water from which he sips.

He’s a BAFTA award-winning actor, yes, but also a man with a deep and not oft publicised love of music that began in his childhood. To those in the know, therefore, his involvement in a new documentary about the life and times of an all but forgotten jazz legend comes as no surprise. Narrated by Freeman, written by Mark Baxter and directed by Lee Cogswell, Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry is a documentary that hopes to do for one of this country’s jazz greats what Searching For Sugar Man (2012) did for Sixto Rodriguez. Half a century ago, Soho was a place of light and dark, of neon and shadows, a world of vice and art, of love affairs conducted against the soundscape of a new post-war music. It was a world in which the crash and burn story of Tubby Hayes took root.

Edward Brian “Tubby” Hayes was a tenor sax master, vibes player and multi-instrumentalist of rare sensitivity and talent. Born in St Pancras in 1935, Tubby led his own groups in England from the 1950s and made his first US appearance at the Half Note in New York City in 1961. Throughout his brief, intense life he played with the very best from Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk to Henry Mancini and played on over 60 LPs, solo and with other artists. His legacy, though largely forgotten by a modern world, cannot be overlooked.

“A certain period of jazz, certainly the Tubby Hayes period, is absolutely knockout,” says Freeman. “And that music, which was new and rooted in all the jazz that had gone before it, was brave and played by men who looked incredible. That aesthetic had a huge influence on me. Men wore suits back then, you know, and I miss that, that sense of tribalism and taste.”

With the documentary comprising 21 interviews with people who knew Tubby, including one with pop art king Peter Blake, the life of this extraordinary musician has been resurrected; and it has taken a genuine music fan like Freeman to help do it. “My thing was the rude boy thing when I was young,” he says. “I’ve been buying records since I was 9 and 2 Tone was my first love. Then I moved onto reggae and r’n’b and soul. I bought my first jazz record when I was 16. It was an old Blue Note sampler that, I guess, I bought from Our Price in Kingston. Then jazz became part of that journey that, I suppose, all of us are on all the time. Once you become a huge fan of music, your search never stops. In fact, it was The Style Council that I went nutty over. That band made complete sense to me.”

It was in the early 1980s when jazz became an informing, constituent part of British pop music that gave freer rein to songwriters of the day. “Jazz is an enormous world, and every branch of that forest leads on to somewhere else. Most good musicians who have been making music for twenty or thirty years always allow influences in. They soak it all up. People like Paul Weller, Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder have made music drawn from many disparate sources. And so because there is blues and gospel in so many forms of American music, hearing jazz as a young man was not alien to me.

“I’d heard of Tubby Hayes when I was younger, but like many of us I didn’t know who he was. He was a white jazz player, he was English, and so I asked myself whether I was going to dig him.” But dig him he did, music for Freeman becoming a riptide that has lent momentum to his creative life, flowing beneath all his performances and through his private life.

“I’ll never get to hear all the music I want to hear. I like all kinds of music because I’ve got too catholic a taste,” he says, clearly not wanting ever to be creatively stifled. “I began visiting Soho in my 20s. The first time I visited Bar Italia was when I met my mum and brother here one day. My mum first came to Soho in the 1950s to spend the whole day and be surrounded by something that wasn’t suburban.” He smirks. “I think she liked a bit of trad jazz back then. But in the past 20 years I’ve begun to feel very at home in Soho. It’s also coincided with how long I’ve been a professional actor. All my meetings were here, all my auditions were here. It’s where struggling young actors would come to hang out. Soho is definitely my engine room because this part of the West-End is truly alive.”

He says there’s a modernist thread that runs through his life and through his engagement with the cultural world at large and adds that “he likes to be the only one”, not ever wanting to be pigeonholed, sub-culturally speaking. Mercuriality, after all, is an actor’s currency. Freeman appears to be a man interested in everything, alive to life’s possibilities while remaining wise enough not to trust any of it to the hilt. He watches the shifting terrain and adapts accordingly, somewhat disaffected by a world that has never quite lived up to its own apparent high standards. “This world of ours is grey, not black and white,” he adds, “and one has to think for oneself.”

With the passing years, he says that he feels mortal but that he’s felt that way since his early 20s. “I know I should take life one day at a time, but whether I actually do is another thing. I’m very fuelled by anger at a lot of things, and not even things that are political. On the one hand I wish that were not the case, but it’s what I am. But usually it’s directed inwards, and somehow it works for me. In my job – which has something to do with self expression – without that sense of the wolf scratching at the door, I’d be bored and I’d not get very far. But I think that goes for anyone in all walks of life anyway. We all need that urge to keep going.”

And then he pauses, smiling ruefully. “Tubby Hayes was a household name for 15 years, but he has been forgotten. And that’s a lesson for someone like me as to how fleeting fame can be. Tubby was riding high for so long and then, without warning, along came four scallies from Liverpool. And the rest is history. It’s a sobering thought, because you never know how long you’ve got.”

Simone Butler

Simone Butler


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I sometimes used to bunk off school for the afternoon and come up here. I loved Soho. Back in the day it was dirtier and filthier and scuzzier. Being young it felt kind of risky being up here.”

Simone Butler smiles as she remembers this unholy pilgrimage to a place so many younger people travelled to hoping to escape their suburban lives. “When you’re allowed to go out on your own as a teenager, everything’s kind of an adventure. So coming up to Soho was amazing. I’d come up when it was getting dark and all the trannys would be outside Madame JoJo’s, it was like another world really.”

Simone is now a familiar face in these parts but she is most well known for landing one of the most coveted jobs in music as Primal Scream’s bassist. But how and where did the journey begin? A journey that has seen her tour the world, play the main stage at Glastonbury, sing live on stage with Jesus & Mary Chain at Austin Psychfest (as well as being the opening DJ at their London shows) and curate part of this year’s Secret Garden Party… “It was The Bass Cellar on Denmark Street where it began in many ways” she says,“I thought ‘Where can I work? Where I can play bass every day and learn about the instrument?’ I was already playing in bands but I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible and they totally took a chance on me. I blagged my way into it. There was one guy who kept trying to get me sacked because he didn’t like the fact that a girl was working there. He would say; ‘what’s she still doing here? I told you to sack her!’ I would set up a sale and then he would come in and go ‘I can deal with it from here’ and then take the sale and commission from me. It prepared me for the industry in the sense that if anyone has a problem with you being female you know how to deal with it.”

She stuck it out and found mutual musical respect and friendship with current Primal Scream guitarist Barrie Cadogan also of Little Barrie who worked at another instrument shop. She paid her dues and eventually when the call came from Bobby Gillespie inviting her to audition, without hesitation she accepted. Rumour has it that she was asked to learn 3 songs but she learned 25, in 4 days – could it be true? Simone smiles and then very seriously says “I did yeah.” When Bobby called I just thought ‘Wow! This is just a fucking incredible opportunity. In my opinion when you really want something you don’t learn just what they tell you, you go in with every bit of ammunition you’ve got, you own it and you make it happen. I put the phone down and thought I’m not going to learn the bare minimum. I’m going to be the bass player of that band. It sounds really arrogant but when you really want something you just go into battle mode.”

At the time, there was lots of press asking who was this unknown person who’d replaced Mani. How did she feel about that? She says “No one knew who the fuck I was”she laughs, “I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me. I just wanted to get on with the job at hand and not get distracted. NME kept asking to do an article but I declined. I just sort of slipped in the side door. It’s been three years and I’ve only ever experienced love and support from Primal Scream fans.”

When her Scream commitments allow, she also fronts her regular lunchtime show on Soho Radio, The Naked Lunch. I’m interested to know how the title came about and what her approach is to the show. As she says, “It’s a total play on words but I felt like it fitted in to the whole ethos of Soho, an element which is missing, debauched & ravenous. The energy at night in Soho, that’s when it comes alive and I wanted something that hinted at that. I love doing my show. It’s totally organic and doesn’t adhere to a play list. I choose every track myself. The current music scene that’s being sold to the masses is really full of a lot of shit and not stuff that inspires or interests me. But don’t get me wrong, there’s some great bands around right now. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the underground scene. For me I feel really passionate about it. It’s really important because music changes & enhances people’s lives. Buying an album you absolutely love makes your week. It can be life changing. Plus, it’s a very sensual thing, the physicality of vinyl. I’m a weird person, I even smell old guitars!”

Having been a regular in Soho for some time, how does she feel about the ongoing modernisation of the area? She sighs and says “I’m all for modernisation and things moving on but not at the cost of the original identity of the area. Soho is such a hugely historical place in terms of music, art & performance. I really think you can preserve the integrity of that without ruining the whole ethos and identity of it. I don’t want to see our cultural history sacrificed for the sake of more multinational chains!”

As an admirer of Primal Scream, I’m also intrigued to know what it’s like play in one of the biggest bands around. “It’s a very special energy you get from playing with the Scream. I’ve never met people who are so immersed in music. It makes me want to be the best musician I can be. I feel really blessed to be able to do that with these people. It’s not really like any other band I’ve been with before. It’s not just about playing music you love it’s about playing music that actually touches you as well. Higher than the Sun is a really beautiful track. I get goose bumps every time I play it. It takes my breath away because it’s such an incredible song!”she says.

It’s refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly and passionately about her work and the area she has given so much of her time to. As she concludes “it’s where I come all the time, even if I’m not working round here I feel like it’s my point of contact for Central London. It’s where I meet people, it’s where I do my radio show, it’s where everything is changing at a really accelerated rate as well. I like the energy around Soho and I like the buzz.”

Soho Radio

Soho Radio


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground…”

I wouldn’t say that I’m anything of an expert when it comes to music, though I do have my favourites: classical, jazz, classic rock and of course, hip hop. And until I became a regular listener of Soho Radio some months ago, I didn’t realise music could be at the centre of a community or how it might open my eyes and ears to a broader spectrum of styles.

Having turned a year old in May this year, Soho Radio serves its neighbourhood well, providing an eclectic mix of everything its world renowned creative hub is famed for. With its ingenious front-of-house coffee shop peering out onto Great Windmill Street and its live radio studio visible through panes of glass at the rear, this truly is a radio station like no other.

Operating from a tiny former mini-cab office, musicians and founders Adrian Meehan, Dan Gray and Finlay Morton began their endeavour out of their mutual love for music and the Soho community. The station’s vibrant and diverse content reflects the area’s culture and brings together musicians, artists, film makers, chefs, poets and the generally creative and curious. Inspired by the type of American community stations portrayed in films like “Do the right thing”, “Vanishing point” and the late East Village Radio in NYC, Soho Radio is broadcast online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, live and direct from Great Windmill Street.

Drummer and studio producer, Adrian Meehan has operated ToolShed Music underneath the shop front we know today as Soho Radio for some years. When the previous tenants in the shop space above ground were due to vacate the premises, Adrian and his co-founders saw the opportunity to create a radio station with a difference; Soho Radio was born in May 2014. “It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground. We’ve had Public Enemy in at the same time as the local school next door. Stephen Fry of Save Soho was in one week, while John James of Soho Estates came in the next”says Adrian.

The station boasts a diverse weekly schedule that is reflective of the Soho community, its residents and the musical tastes of the neighbourhood. From Wednesday’s weekly morning The Soho Society Presents slot, to Primal Scream’s Simone Marie’s Naked Lunch and Scotsman Keb Darge’s Friday evening, this furiously independent station showcases its community and brand new talent daily. With the station fostering independent voices, up-and-coming underground acts as well as being a must-visit for big label stars, Soho Radio is the true voice of the Soho community. But it interests and influence extend beyond the confines of its area, with world class talents such as Boy George, Howard Marks and The Cuban Brothers also part of the mix.

In its first year, the station become well known throughout the neighbourhood as well as further afield. One only has to wonder where the station might be being played at any given time of the week; in offices, shops and homes throughout Soho or anywhere in the world for that matter! Just people looking to get a fix of the vibrancy of Soho. As Adrian would put it: “You can’t force people to listen to it. We’ve just got to be there taking part, that’s what counts.” And indeed, a focus for the station now has become growing the listenership. With over 120,000 listeners tuning in every month, the next steps include deciding on how the future of the station will look and how to grow the business. On founding the station, Meehan says “it was the fact that Soho needed and demanded it. Soho Radio is a great trademark, if it was called society radio or music radio, it wouldn’t work. I’m very grateful that people choose to tune in.”

A Soho based radio station produced by the people of Soho, for the people of Soho, is something that should be celebrated in itself. A personal favourite slot of mine happens to be The Soho Society Presents, hosted by Leslie Hardcastle MBE and Clare Lynch, where the neighbourhood’s current community topics are discussed, alongside an occasional guest. The station’s mix of community engagement and showcase of musical and creative talent is rarity in itself, as is its radio station/coffee shop concept. Embedded in the heart of the community, Soho Radio has found a novel way to be seen as well as heard.

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“I have been commissioned to write an autobiography and I would be grateful to any of your readers who could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.”

There are many things you think about when entering into journalism, a thought process which is based on a series of emulations, influences and personal style. There have always been two names that spring to mind when spending long dark days wondering what I’m doing with myself: first of these is Hunter S. Thompson, the infamous American writer and self-styled Doctor Gonzo, secondly, and closer to home is Jeffrey Bernard, the grand bohemian, alcoholic miscreant and for some time, the literary face of Soho.

We’ll get the relevant, if not perhaps colder, information out of the way first. Jerry Bernard was born in London on the 27th of May 1932. His father an architect, his mother an opera singer, his middle class upbringing was not to prepare him for a life of notoriety. Self-styling came early for young Bernard, who changed his name to Jeffrey whilst still a young boy, and at the age of 16, Jeffrey Bernard decided it was time to move out of his parents’ home and make for the bohemian lifestyle offered by Soho. It was 1948, a time when youth cultures were throwing down the shackles of the past in hope of a new world following two world wars in quick succession.

Bernard’s life is mixture of fact, speculation and myth, not helped by the production of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (original showing 1989). The play starred the late and talented, Peter O’Toole. Reliance on his own words is of course problematic in this search, as he himself once said that “I have been commissioned to write an autobiography and I would be grateful to any of your readers who could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.”

The title of the play, which came to be seen as Bernard having “written his own eulogy,” is based on a long running joke from Bernard’s long-time place of employment: The Spectator. This tenure lasted from 1975 until his death, spearheading the Low Life column (which has since been led by Jeremy Clarke). When he felt unfit to write, the paper would simply publish the by-line “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell,” or at least words to that effect, in order to explain the absence of his column in the issue.

When in a fit state to send it in, Bernard would pen a column which usually consisted of what, to the naked eye, appeared as humorous ramblings of a drunkard which contained many philosophical musings on everything from class differences, “But you’ve got to have money for comfort, which obviously doesn’t matter as much when you’re young, but even so. I always like to bloody eat well and be warm. Have a drink when I want it.”, to what he saw as the perils of ageing – “One of the things that goes with getting older is that one becomes more conservative, and I emphasise that when I use the word conservative I do not mean politically.” – an interesting take considering who he was writing for.

These lines, of course, do not exist in a vacuum and a single piece from the Low Life column allows us a glimpse into what made the celebrated journalist tick, whilst he sat ‘sipping’ on ale in his favourite local Soho pub: The Coach and Horses, Greek Street. Of course this is an unassuming place for his work to come from; it was called “the office and habitat of Jeffrey Bernard and other Spectator journalists,” by Richard West, Bernard’s contemporary, in 1984. It is, therefore, only fitting that the setting of Keith Waterhouse’s play is set entirely within this most infamous of public houses, exploring the most infamous of public characters.

Unfortunately, like the boy who cried wolf, Jeffrey Bernard’s lifestyle eventually led to him becoming truly unwell. In fact, it was in 1965 that the first signs of deterioration due to lifestyle occurred. He was admitted into hospital sometime in this year and subsequently found himself diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, a condition where inflammation of the pancreas occurs and persists for many years; this is due to the enzymes in the gut which begin to attempt digesting the organ itself, causing intense pain for the sufferer. Of course, this initial diagnosis could not dissuade Jeffrey Bernard, nor did the (to most) sobering news that he was given just a few years to live. “For years I drank whisky until it caused me to get pancreatitis and subsequently diabetes. Now that I am not supposed to drink at all, I find vodka to be the next best thing to abstinence,” is how Bernard described how he dealt with his condition in 1988, a good 20 years after his supposed death sentence. This was not for lack of trying to leave the devil’s drink behind and one article concludes with “I only wish I could get out of tea what I get out of vodka.” Proof, if ever there was one, that Jeffrey certainly understood his problems.

Alas, all miracles must come to an end. And in 1994, Jeffrey Bernard finally succumbed to his ailments and was found, because of his diabetes, to have developed a gangrenous leg which required amputation. The spiralling loss of health had him write in his column on August 13, 1994 that “A certain amount of loneliness is beginning to creep into my life — very different from being alone, which I like, and it has prompted me to put an advertisement into the personal columns of this journal, stating quite simply; alcoholic, diabetic amputee seeks sympathy fuck.”

Not two years later, he was admitted as an inpatient at Middlesex Hospital where he would remain until he succumbed to renal failure and died fighting against his liver at the age of 65 on the 4th of September 1997. I like to think this giant of Bohemian Soho lived his life to the fullest. He wrote his Low Life column from his hospital bed and the final line written by the soon to be stopped force goes as this, “In Bridgetown, Barbados, they have the equipment for dialysis and I suddenly realise that what cures any itch and most complaints is £1 million in your current account.” And now, in memory of such a great man some of us might have known, most of us would have heard of, I’m off to have myself a bit of a drink, and tomorrow morning worry not, for I just might be unwell.

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Achieve(s)


“We never closed… We never clothed.”

Today this staple of performance goes by the name of The Windmill International, though some years ago its Windmill title was synonymous with its ‘keep calm and carry on’ nature and Revudeville ways. Once upon a time, as Britain entered into the midst of war, skimpy see-through outfits and suspender belts thrived in one particular Soho-based theatre. At The Windmill Theatre, as a front-row seat would to be vacated, men stuck at the back of the theatre would rush forward over the stalls in a frantic bid to get close to the scantily clad performers and quietly escape the terrors of the chaos around them.

The once renowned Windmill Theatre in Great Windmill Street was for some years both a variety and revue theatre. The venue takes its name from a windmill that stood on the street from during the reign of King Charles II until the late 18th century. Having originally opened as a cinema in 1909, The Palais de Luxe, where early silent films were shown, in 1930 wealthy and eccentric widow Laura Henderson bought the Palais de Luxe building with other intentions in mind.

Hiring architect Howard Jones, the interior was soon remodelled into a small one-tier, 320-seat theatre. Renamed the Windmill, it opened as a playhouse in June 1931. Unprofitable, its existence as a theatre was short-lived. Henderson soon hired a new theatre manager namely Vivian Van Damm with whom she produced Revudeville, a continuous variety that ran from 2:30pm until 11pm. Putting on shows with dancers, singers, showgirls and specialty numbers, the first Revudeville act opened in February 1932. However, the theatre still continued to be unprofitable all in all causing significant loses during the theatre’s first few years under Henderson’s guise.

Incorporating glamorous nude females on stage into the shows, Van Damm had finally found his breakthrough, inspired by the likes of Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge in Paris. These shows however did not come without difficulty or complication. Due to the restrictions at the time on theatrical performances in London, the display of nudity in motion was illegal. The shows went on to feature motionless nudes, or ‘living statues’, which at the time could not be credibly regarded as morally objectionable, or as it went: ‘if you move, it’s rude.’

Other local theatres such as The Piccadilly soon copied the theatre as The Windmill’s shows became a huge commercial success and the Windmill girls took their show on tour to other London provincial theatres and music halls. Van Damm then produced a series of nude tableaux vivants which were based around themes such as Annie Oakley, mermaids, Native Americans, and Britannia. Later, movement finally was introduced in the acts, in the form of the fan dance: this involved a naked dancing girl’s body concealed by fans held by herself and four female attendants. This was to be another crafty way in which the spirit of the law was evaded, satisfying the demands of the audience by moving the props rather than the girls.

The theatre went by the famous motto of ‘We Never Closed’ which has often been humorously modified to ‘We Never Clothed’. This acted as a reference to the fact that the theatre remained open thought the duration of the 2nd World War. Performances were to continue throughout the war even at the very height of the Blitz with cast members, showgirls and crew moving into the safety of the theatre’s two basement levels during some of the worst air attacks on the city.

Many of the patrons of the theatre were families and troops, as well as celebrities who visited as Henderson’s personal guests, including Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, granddaughters of Queen Victoria. For a period, on the opening night of every new show at the theatre, the Royal Box was reserved for the Hon. George Lansbury (a member of His Majesty’s Government).

Aged 82, Henderson died in November 1944. In her will, she left the Windmill to Van Damm. During his time at the theatre, the venue was home to many famous variety artists including Freddie Eldrett, with a number of well-known comedians and actors having their first real success on the Windmill’s stage: Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsyth and the unforgettable Tommy Cooper. Van Damm went on to run the theatre until his death in 1960, leaving it to his daughter, Sheila Van Damm. She struggled to keep the theatre afloat with the Soho neighbourhood having become a much seedier place, and a wealth of competitors on her doorstep. Having run for over 30 years, the Revudeville shows finally came to close in 1964 amid competition from private members’ strip clubs.

Changing hands, the theatre went on to have a stint as a cinema incorporating a casino for roughly 10 years. Closing in 1974, the cinema’s lease was bought the same year by the late Paul Raymond who returned the venue to its seedier roots. Raymond’s first production at the venue was Let’s Get Laid starring Fiona Richmond and John Inman. Much in keeping with Raymond’s reputation, this no doubt would’ve sat well with Henderson and Van Damm.

 

 

Picturehouse

Picturehouse


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this.”

The Opening Scene. A black screen. A voiceover; “Something incredible happens when the lights go out and the film starts.” The Picture House. The name stirs up a vague recollection. I can picture the logo. Not trendy, not fashionable, a touch quirky, slightly retro. Harking back to the peak celluloid era, the seventies. That decade’s version of Jay Gatsby’s jazz age. Discreet. The Picture House. It used to be a common phrase “I wonder what’s on at The Picture House?”

The screen opens to a montage; “The idea has always been to create an alternative to the multiplex experience. Each Picturehouse cinema is unique in it’s own way.”I’d been to the Gate in Notting Hill and I’d seen signs out in Qxford and darkest Dalston. Survivors, independent, keeping the Hammer Horror werewolves from the door. This was the impression I got. Cinemas run for fans by fans, staffed by students, motivated by pleasure not profit. Marketing Manager, Toby King explains “Picturehouse is 25 years old, co-founded by Lyn Golby who remains Managing Director. The first cinema acquired was the Phoenix in Oxford. Since, Picturehouse have been acquiring and building cinemas, and now have over 20 sites across the country and more on the way.”

So this was the same people, now opening in a prime London property – one block from Piccadilly, in the old Trocadero – with seven screens to provide screams, laughter and tears. An amusement park full of emotional rollercoaster rides, using what someone once called, and a million have repeated ‘the greatest art form of all’. “Soho is an essential part of the UK’s film and creative industries and we’re proud to be rubbing shoulders here. Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this. It might be a bold statement but it’s one we’re ready for and we’re thrilled to be here. We know we have something to offer the cinema scene in the West-End. We’ve hit the ground running.”

A white tile exterior at ground level shows how this corner has changed. Under the pillars that support the white tiled ceiling hang large lampshades that on a foggy London night could make quite a noir-ish rendezvous for men in trench coats and fedoras to meet femme fatales in hats, coats and heels. Kiss them curtly, capture their hearts and hurry them inside to watch Humphrey and Greta in black and white. A boulevard of hopes and dreams. And Toby King hopes the cinema’s selections reflect its aspirations. “What’s important for us is playing the best films. At Central on any given day we could be playing the latest blockbuster as well as a surprisingly fantastic documentary about sheep breeders in Yorkshire or a strand of LGBT films or the latest quirky US comedy or a new release of a classic.”

A quick look to see what’s on reveals a real variety show. From music documentaries to blockbusters and classics for the kids to smaller quirky indie films, the signs are looking good. Glancing into the lobby,  I see a majestic staircase, adorned with amazing illustrations and lit by a meteoric shower of glowing. The ground floor cafe looks impressive with its wooden floorboards, 50s style furniture in pastel hues, young smartly clad staff and the white and silver all important retro coffee machine. ”We want people to relax and enjoy the space in cinemas.”

In the cafe there is a little buzz, but not overly busy, easy to find a seat. I sit back and try to decipher the story of what the illustrations on the walls are trying to say. Modern and edgy interpretations of cinema’s colourful history. I’m drawn to see a film. Up the stairs, a spacious colourful bar on the left, on the right the donuts look delicious but we settle for popcorn, always a winner. Up to Screen 7, up multiple escalators and floors adorned with original frescoes and a soon to be opened members bar promising what should be incredible roof terraces. “The Members Bar should be opening in October. It’s a stunning space. Located over 2 floors with a roof terrace offering wonderful views over Piccadilly and Haymarket. It’s going to be a beautiful cocktail bar.”   This Picture House is a work in progress, but the final result should be a real hot ticket.

Arriving at our cinema, we settle into the comfy sofa style seat for two in the back row. Finally we made it to our destination! After the film, it’s back to the First floor bar. This is a cool space. Yellow leather low lying sofas and green upholstered chairs are spread out across the room. It’s open, relaxing and not too loud. The food tested and tasted is good and it’s a great place to talk, with great views on the street life below. As Soho fights to retain it’s sense of uniqueness, this cinema has taken one of the biggest and boldest moves yet. In every sense it’s Rocky taking on Apollo Creed, it’s Mission Impossible is to survive in the centre of the West-End with an independent style swagger. Support your local cinema, and they’ll give it back to you in left field selections, special events, and tasty popcorn and donuts, and so much more. “We are holding special events, premieres, various film festivals, Q&As, party’s almost daily as well as our regular programming. We are also a main venue for this years London Film Festival and we’ll be hosting Sundance Film Festival London in June 2016.”There is a whole crew working behind the scenes to make Picturehouse Central a success and they deserve credit. Soho wills and needs them to succeed. As the credits roll on the wall with the names of early supporters of this immense effort, remember this was really only the beginning. The screen fades to black. The End.

Colony

Colony


Words & Photography Robert Chilcott


“It was late afternoon. The place was freezing. Six or seven older men in overcoats were barking insults at each other. Suddenly the place went silent. One of the men looked at me and said “I like your face, would you care for some champagne?”

Mark O’Rourke was 19 or 20 when he found it “I stumbled up the stairs and poked my head in – there were three, maybe four faces, one behind the bar, with the daylight haze coming through the afternoon light. There was a beauty and a fear, all very palpable. I ran away immediately, and it was quite some time before I went back”. Michael Peel went there the first couple of times with Jeffrey Bernard, and remembers, in 1979, “…this little wizened woman sitting on what I came to know as the ‘perch’, looking up at me and saying “Hello, you fat cunt. Who are you? Twiggy?”. I believe it was the last time Muriel was ever in the Club – she died a few weeks later. The nickname stuck… Indeed, very few people in Soho knew my real name until 2008″. Sophie Parkin was taken there by mum Molly when she was 14 “Francis Bacon gave me champagne and I kept my mouth shut”.

Poet Brian Patten once described the venue as “a small urinal full of fractious old geezers bitching about each other”. The Colony Room opened its doors at 41 Dean Street in 1948, founded by Muriel Belcher, as a private members bar with an afternoon licence. Attracting a social mix gelled together by drink, it was a refuge for resting actors and rent boys, and over its 60 year history its clientele included Lucien Freud, Peter O’ Toole, George Melly, Tom Baker, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

The walls of The Colony may have been painted in luminous projectile absinthe vomit. “A perfect finishing touch from the Green Fairy”, says Jupiter John. “I thought that this is how Dorothy must have felt when entering the City of Oz. It was a wonderful combination of the inebriate intelligentsia – artists, jesters and fools. Royalty and criminals, prostitutes and movie stars, market stall holders, shysters, transvestites and used dwarf salesmen.”

No-one could decide themselves to become a member. Darren Coffield was a student at the Slade School of Art when he first went there with Joshua Compston in 1988. “Most of my tutors had been abused and thrown out by Ian Board, they couldn’t quite believe I had successfully become a member. Ian took me under his wing and would often ask at the end of the evening “How’s your handbag dear?”, meaning are you going to be okay getting home or do you need money for a taxi. Francis Bacon was arguably the clubs most famous patron, and would do a daily morning stint at the canvas before coming out to lunch. Recalls Peel “He actually drank somewhat less than most realised. He tipped a lot of champagne on the floor by always holding his glass at an angle. He was very shrewd”.

Most artists like to drink heavily, and a lot of the younger artists went there because of Bacon. Coffield agrees “As an artist you have to feed on the painters that have gone before you, so you might as well feast on the best, of which I would regard the painters of the Colony to have been the greatest post-war figurative artists of the 20th century. Alcohol is one of the few intoxicating substances you can take and still produce visual work of a reasonable standard. Bacon would often paint whilst drunk, or with very bad hangovers. The problem getting intoxicated with other substances is that critical faculties are impaired by drugs but not necessarily obliterated by drink.”

John Hurt recently stated that “People go out today with the intention of getting smashed. We hated binge drinkers. They were boring and if you slipped into it, you’d be told to pull yourself together. We wanted to seek, to find, to be interested, heighten awareness, talk.” Coffield suggests the rot set in earlier “Hurt is partly right but I think he might be slightly over romanticising it. The great shame about Soho was in the late 1990’s it was completely taken over by the Brit Pop and YBA crowd, who flooded the area with cocaine. They were far more interested in ruthless self promotion and what they could get up their nose rather than pour down their throat. Drugs killed the conversation. People ranting high on drugs are never witty and make poor listeners.”

The Colony closed in 2008, amidst a characteristically unpleasant narrative of pro and anti Michael Wojas factions and a campaign fronted by dandy Sebastian Horsley. Considering Soho’s fate in 2015, did it just see the warning signs and bow out early? Peel disagrees “No way. It was a major beacon of the old Soho and its closure, at least for many of its older members, was the start of Soho’s decline”. Jupiter argues “It’s time was up because its lease was up. Nobody would have willingly given up the Colony. Those green eyes put up a fight but bowed out in funeral black”.

“Michael Wojas was a very astute man so probably yes” suggests Coffield “But no one else saw the warning signs and his decision to close the club ultimately cost him his name and reputation in some circles.” Peel continues “Wojas took it upon himself to close it – I suspect mainly to avoid too many questions about what had been going on and why the books hadn’t been done for several years. Cheques were being cashed fraudulently, Wojas was faking the Treasurer’s signature – presumably to fuel his rampant drug habits. Sebastian, Ian Freeman, Hamish McAlpine and others fought to keep it going. I sort of initiated and ‘led’ this but tried to keep in the background to avoid personality clashes with Wojas – so Ian & Sebastian were the face of the Save the Colony campaign. For Coffield “If the Club relied on the money Horsley put across the bar it would have shut down almost a decade earlier! Wojas had the lineage, through Ian Board to Muriel Belcher. The club could have probably been saved but it would have been a pale shadow of its former self without Wojas. He really had no heir apparent anyway to pass the club on to.”

Parkin simply states that “…It wasn’t up to Sebastian (who died of an overdose, poetically, on the day of Wojas’ funeral). The leaseholder didn’t want it to be a club. He wanted to get rid of the hassle and sell it off as flats”. Jupiter sees it all as merely a sign of the times “There is a callous disregard for London’s history. Damien Hirst could have stepped in, but he had sobered up by then so the Devon surf was more his brew”. Others are more pragmatic about its demise. O’Rourke surmises that “Saving it would arguably have meant turning it into some kind of museum showcase. The fundamental reason for its existence was drinking and working around the licensing laws! Now you can go into any supermarket and buy booze anytime and get sick in the gutter as you see fit. We are all in the gutter. The Colony was many clubs to many people, that was its great power. It was, in a sense, another England, one which the establishment was actually quite threatened by. Why would you save something that shows you an alternative when all you want is straight lines.”

 

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing…”

He takes another sip of his cappuccino and regards the creatures of the Soho night walking past the brightly lit frontage of Bar Italia where we are sat. For a moment we are both staring at the present but thinking back to a past which still feels very close. As a young boy of 7 from the relative calm of Hertfordshire, Andy Lewis first came to Soho with his parents in 1977 and the memory of it seems to have had a lasting effect,“I remember coming to Carnaby Street when it had that big sign –Carnaby welcomes the world and all that. It was just after The Jam shot that ‘News of the World’cover down there. It was just an amazingly colourful and vibrant place.”

Flash forward another ten years and Lewis would be discovering and slowly making the place his own stomping ground buying records from the now sadly departed Cheapo Cheapo, splashing the cash on threads from stores like Merc on Carnaby Street, and attending the ubiquitous Northern Soul all nighters at the 100 Club. From here on music consumed his life. It was only a matter of time before Soho became the place to be for this well educated Mod from the suburbs. When the glorious Brit-pop years of the mid 90s were in full swing Lewis was to be found as a regular DJ at The Wag on Wardour Street with nights such as Blow Up and DJing on Blur’s Parklife tour. As he says of that heady time;“That was almost a second, possibly third heyday of Soho. A very exciting time for people to come here. I’m sure that if you’ve never been to London before and you come through Soho, it’s got this notable energy and history about it, but nowadays it’s more like an artificial theme parky kind of energy.”

Next up for the talented Lewis was a stint as a solo artist producing two critically acclaimed albums for Soho stalwart label Acid Jazz. On his debut release Billion Dollar Project he got the chance to work with Mod legend and former vocalist with The Action, Reg King. Lewis must’ve thought he’d hit the Mod jackpot but that was just the start! Whilst doing a spot as a roadie, he met the man he now plays bass for and calls his boss; Paul Weller. And though Lewis is a well turned out man with an impeccable taste in tailoring, I wanted to know what it was like working for the man who has his own clothing line and is constantly being labelled as a style icon;“One of the things I like about working with Paul is, it’s the only job that I’ve ever had where my boss has been better dressed than me. He shows you how to go as a man of a certain age. He still looks great. Not always does he look Mod, but he always looks great.”

Mods have been an ever present fixture on the streets of Soho ever since the days of The Small Faces back in the 1960s when Steve Marriott & Co. had their wages paid in clothes from shops such as His Clothes and the wonderfully named I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. But is it still possible to be a Mod in the days of Brand Consumerism that we find ourselves living in now? Lewis seems to think it is. “The Mod thing for me was all about keeping an eye on the future as much as having an eye on the past. Nowadays it’s all about buying a brand identity. The Mod thing was never about who made it, it was about what it looked like on you. The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing.”

The Mods are still here but life is changing in the dark heart of Soho. The dirty, sleazy and ever so slightly seedy element that has defined Soho as a popular haunt for creatives like Andy Lewis has transformed in recent years. Andy says, ”The problem is when people start knowing the price of it all and the value of none of it. Soho was a place that creative industries moved into because it was cheap and then people wanted to move here because it was creative and that pushed the prices of everything up and now it’s trading on its past. So if you locate in Soho it’s as if you’re buying into this period of history which isn’t here any more. It’s got a past but not a future and that’s what worries me.”

So what now for Soho? Every day more high street brands & the same old coffee shops arrive. As a visitor to Soho for over 30 years this is something that has obviously played on his mind;“All these little coffee shops that are opening up are essentially the same thing. Bar Italia is Bar Italia but people don’t want to come here they want to go to Starbucks and places like that because they feel comfortable with the Starbucks brand. It’s great but it’s also terrible as well and I think if we’re not careful we risk losing the reason why people want to come here. We’ll lose the reason why people think London is special”.

The temperature drops a degree or two and as the door to Ronnie Scott’s swings open for a moment the sound of a jazz refrain catches the ear. Lewis orders another cup of coffee and says “I’ve always been a cappuccino drinker. I’ve always liked a nice & strong, Italian frothy coffee and you cannot beat it. First thing in the morning and even last thing at night when you’ve got a gig to go to. That’s why I keep coming to Bar Italia, it’s just around the corner from all the places that I come to. When I was going for a night out in Soho and even working I’d come here first, have a couple of espressos or a latte and then go to Madame Jo Jo’s and be fit for a night’s DJing!”

Sohoites

Sohoites


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


Caught up in the midst of the heritage and chaos of London, Soho’s relationship with bohemia, occasional controversy, the wild and the experimental has for long been a creative institution. The launch of Soho Journal saw the coming together of a wide variety of individuals reflective of Soho, current and past.

Specialising in fashion and portraiture, London-based photographer Sandra Viljandi brings her distinctive style to capture the eclectic array of personalities gracing the Soho Journal’s first-issue launch party. Sohoites from actors to photographers, and designers through to artists who are defining the heritage of the neighbourhood, through their style, wit and sophistication.

A graduate from the renowned professional photography program at Edinburgh College, Sandra Vijandi is originally from the Basque Country (Spain).

*Exhibtion at Mark Powell Bespoke, Marshall Street, until late summer 2015

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Jazz and Soho go together. There were basement dives here and there. It was the culture of Soho. We’re trying to build on that.”

Jazz. For those who choose to follow those tracks, there are many destinations, but there is one stop where you must get off. As a civilian or a soldier in the Jazz fraternity you must pay homage, make the pilgrimage, visit Mecca. Frith Street, Soho. The Jazz Club, Ronnie Scott’s. Jazz can mean many things to many people, but to many people Ronnie Scott’s only means one thing. JAZZ. A cliché? Perhaps, but I want to click with that clique.

Soho, bright neon lights, dark nights, a switchblade smell of danger, caffeine and an occasional reefer, fuel for nocturnal night owls. West Indians, American GIs, and sharp young London boys fill Soho’s side streets looking for life with a modern edge. Aristocrats and sophisticated cats dip into the lowlife where things are looking up. High aspirations, high times, hijinks and good times. Chinatown, below Shaftesbury Avenue, where the theatre crowds provide the cinema-scape captured in Absolute Beginners, to a Gerrard Street basement. No 39, sharp suited, shirt and tie, this is the modern world, the modern world of modern Jazz. Music with fire, the Be-Bop doesn’t stop. It stays up all night. Pete King and Ronnie Scott – it’s 1959. “30th October, when they opened, they didn’t even have a liquor license, they just had a license to play music,” says Simon Cooke, the current Managing Director of Ronnie Scott’s.

Ronnie could play and Pete loved Jazz, and when the club opened in Frith Street on December 17th 1965, Jazz began to love Ronnie Scott’s. “We’re coming up to 50 years in Frith Street and we were 55 years as a club last year. There’s still people around who went to and played at the old club. To a lot of the jazz world, it’s still really Ronnie’s club. You’re just looking after it. It makes you want to remain pure to its initial ideals, or people’s perception. It’s important.”

From the cellar where they started, the new club was uptown, upscale and upright. The music was out of sight. The low stage right in the centre, surrounded on all sides by the graduating steps of tables lit by table lamps with red shades, checkered tablecloths and velvet seats. The crowd sitting facing, waiting, anticipating. A low ceiling, seats at the front inches away from the musicians. The black and white portraits of legends look down upon the honoured, gracing the stage. A ripple of applause as the musicians take their places. A 1 2 3 4 arrrrrrrr-rat-at-at. A-rat-at-at-rat-a-tat, the drummer rolls, the bass begins to swing and the piano player starts to do his thing. “Gangsters were still running protection rackets, they were running gigs ‘til four, five in the morning, the whole Soho thing was very different.”

The house band, echoing the past, Ronnie Scott’s Soho spirit rises, as the nature of improvisation dictates, different every time. Drinks clink and dinner is served, smart staff weave between the tables. Feet tap to every hit, hands clap at the end each number. Once upon a time it was always smoky but those days have gone in the dizzy haze of a past daze. The walls don’t talk, they listen, rebound the sound. Art Blakey, Roland Kirk, Buddy Rich, Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, legends everyone, and everyone has played in Soho at Ronnie Scott’s, and they still do. Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, whoever might be in town might just turn up late one night and join in the jam. The 200 people who paid for seats didn’t see that coming. “We created the Late Late Show, putting a band on at 11 o’clock and they would play through to three. Halfway through it would turn into a jam session. It grew and grew and we have great nights. You do get guys coming and sitting in, you don’t know who it will be. All of Beyoncé’s band turned up one night, took over the stage.”

A trip to Ronnie Scott’s was a treat for me the first time, it was everything I wanted it to be and probably more. How often do things actually match and exceed what you hoped for. I always mean to go back more than I have. If you live in London and love London life, London lives, you have to go to Ronnie Scott’s. It should be compulsory. What goes on there, Georgie Fame every year for weeks at a time, Yeh Yeh. Charlie Watts and his Big Band, slicked hair, sharp suit and sticks. Friends tell tales of walking past, ‘Miles Davis playing tonight’ reads the sign. Nina Simone creating an atmosphere and her own agenda, working on her own timetable. Ronnie Scott’s has seen the lot, and seen a lot.

Now it’s slightly more upmarket, the food’s better, the cocktails are better. “Now we have a proper Head Chef. We sold 79,000 cocktails last year,” says Simon“Ronnie always did it, but we’ve made it better. The club itself is a family affair. Our floor managers have come up from being waiters or bartenders.”Look closely behind the bar though and you will see one bottle that harks back to the serrated edge that was Soho in the sixties. The Krays had tried to lure Ronnie and Pete out of Soho, but they decided to stay. “Opposite was a Maltese Gambling Club. This guy called Albert Dimes set up there and he was the local protection and he protected the club from anyone else. It was his turf. Albert was a bit tough, good with a knife. He gave the club a bottle of champagne, a magnum of Mumm’s champagne as a symbol that this was a safe house. It was neutral territory. We’ve still got it unopened behind the bar.”

The discreet club upstairs lets in the new Jazz generation to play, learn in public and polish skills, gain confidence. “We run a Wednesday jam up here, because the whole thing about Jazz is improvisation and sitting in with each other. On a Wednesday we have one up here and one downstairs as well. We are Jazz Central. One of the owners has quite left-field taste and we push the boundaries. If in doubt, go more jazz.Jazz and Soho go together. There were basement dives here and there. It was the culture of Soho. We’re trying to build on that. We’re working harder on that Soho and Jazz thing. In the homogenisation of Soho that’s taking place at the moment, what’s going to set Soho apart? Perhaps jazz is the answer.”At the centre of the scene, still creating a scene. The legend of Ronnie Scott’s continues its Soho story.

Paul Raymond

Paul Raymond


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“There will always be sex – always, always, always.”

There is no denying it, I did not know him and neither did you. Though, still his methods and his legacy are forever lingering and echoing about this neighbourhood. About the vibrancy of the evening along Brewer Street, the un-glowing neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar is hung high above the street unnoticed by the people that tangle below. The Box Soho screams obscenity; nudity and sex before our very eyes unravelling. But from whom did this idea prosper: the world centre of erotic entertainment? Sex, publishing, property and Soho – Paul Raymond shall be forever renowned as the king of Soho.

The man who pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade for more than 40 years began his career as an entrepreneur selling nylons and hairnets from a stall. Born into a Roman Catholic family in Liverpool, Paul Raymond was an early continental stage name he had chosen for himself – he was born Geoffrey Anthony Quinn. His mother wished for him to have a sound job in life, such as a railway ticket office clerk, thus never fully accepting his somewhat obscene chosen career path. As a youngster, Raymond’s father absconded from his life when he was just five. Despite his success and the confidence which his trade is known, as a youngster Raymond was shy and often stammered. His childhood would’ve taught him the deep requirement to establish his own independence which ultimately led to define his character.

A working-class boy, Raymond left school at 15 and started working at the Manchester ship canal as an office boy. His first passion was devoted to percussion – though he would claim he was rather good, it wasn’t enough to make it as a professional. Under the direction of wartime labour laws, he went down a mine as a Bevin Boy for one day only with the police bringing him back. After a stint in the RAF he left legitimately, beginning to move toward theatricality. In Liverpool, Raymond became a theatrical agent and a theatrical impresario in a small way later in Manchester. He then humorously purchased a mind reading act for 25 pounds though he was ‘never quick enough’ as he would describe it. The manager of a theatre said to Raymond that he would allow him and his two female colleagues on to his stage with a catch; only if the females were to be entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that on-stage nudity was permitted providing women didn’t move whilst on stage. Being a man who sought to find a way around any obstructions in his path, Raymond found a way to make the women rotate in order to make his earlier shows a success. Here began Raymond on a path through a changing Britain and Soho that would lead him to become the richest man in the country, going on to present risqué sex shows such as Yes, We Have No Pyjamas, Come Into My Bed and Let’s Get Laid.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning theatres into private clubs. The old Doric Ballroom in Walker’s Court soon became the makings of The Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of daily explicit shows. The club was one of very few legal venues in London offering full frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revue bar was also able to incorporate a Sunday night show aimed at a gay audience. Amid the controversy of the club and Raymond’s reputation, the chairman of the London Sessions called his show “filthy, disgusting and beastly,” fining him £5,000 in 1961. The publicity for his shows was, of course, worth many times £5,000. By the late 1960s the venue was solely hosting striptease performances. This in turn made way for big budget erotic shows of the type presented by continental clubs such as the Crazy Horse. With a small number of male dancers, performers were mostly female. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Pieced together with as many as three performances nightly, they were known as The Festival of Erotica which ran for many years.

Raymond became a British institution and in his own words, “there will always be sex – always, always, always.” His realisation that the beauty of the live female body could in fact do better at the box office if relocated from the dark sweaty cellars of Soho to be rejuvenated within the world of theatre was key to Raymond’s success. When taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, the formula he continued was to provide nudity without actionable crudity, which he too applied to publications such as Men Only. Raymond’s wealth and empire began to spread throughout Soho rapidly with the purchasing of buildings throughout the area.

At an early stage in his career, Raymond refused to have partners or even a board of directors, thus leading to his organisation of theatres and magazines, sitting alongside a mass of around 400 properties in the Soho area, becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements. Come the late 1980s, profits from the numerous clubs he owned, his West End theatres and girlie magazines totalled more than £6m a year, continuing to rise yearly. Having acquired the lease of numerous other properties throughout Soho, they went from making Raymond into a multimillionaire then later into a billionaire, with the values of properties in the UK ever-rising. With an estimated fortune of more than £1.5bn, by 1992 he had ousted the Duke of Westminster as Britain’s richest man. Still, Raymond was simply ill-equipped to constructively employ or enjoy such wealth, remaining shy and often stammering in company. Despite his insistence that he was an entertainer, a show business man, he was frequently coined a pornographer and a crook by the British media, leading him to dismiss the much harsher claims made by journalists that he had little interest in anything other than his cabin cruiser, drink and his iconic gold-plated Rolls Royce.

Despite his overwhelming success, his personal life was often problematic, even tragic. In 1974, his wife Joan divorced him after 23 years of marriage after Raymond confessed to adultery with the well-exposed star of some of his shows, Fiona Richmond. With him and his ex-wife not nearly on speaking terms, his turbulent relationship with his son and presumed heir, Howard, had bettered until his drug problems ensued. The year Raymond became Britain’s richest man in 1992, his daughter Debbie Raymond, who had helped him run his business, died of a tragic heroin overdose.

Tortured by the untimely death of his daughter, Raymond came to confine himself in his Green Park penthouse, located next door to the Ritz hotel. Though still his story of financial success continued on. The receiver in 1994 accepted Raymond’s £15m offer to buy the Café de Paris, the Rialto cinema site and shops and offices in Rupert Street and Coventry Street in Soho, with him also buying the Queen’s House leisure complex in Leicester Square for £12m two years later. When appointing Joe Daniel, a Barclays banker, as his managing director it wasn’t long until rumours of cancer and bad health started to spread. In 1997, he sold his legacy, the Raymond Revuebar, to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar dwindled with its eventual closure in 2004.

Raymond progressively thinned his connection with the organisation he had built, despite insistence that he was still in charge with his brother, Dr Philip Quinn, becoming a director of his Organisation in 2000. Falling out of the media limelight in his later years, aged 82, Raymond died of respiratory failure in 2008. Forward to today, his granddaughters, Fawn & India, continue his legacy and love for the neighbourhood that brought the success of his career amid a changing Britain and Soho. The sign of the Raymond Revuebar may no longer glow high above Brewer Street, but his methods and his legacy shall forever last in the neighbourhood which he helped shape. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Carnaby

Carnaby


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Really, London started here for me. As a teenager and a then indie/MOD-type some 5 years ago, I started my first job here in London, along the brick pathway of Carnaby Street. Though it wasn’t The Jam soundtrack roaring out of Liam Gallagher’s newly launched Pretty Green flagship store, likely as my new employer that took my attention, but my undeniable fascination with a street so poignant and defining of this corner of Soho.

Seemingly, the 1960s have become overwhelmingly synonymous with a certain street that runs between Beak Street in the south and Liberty of London in the north. Though, this area has a rich history and accounts of land exchange dating from the 16th century. Thomas Poultney, a landowner, came to acquire two then adjoining fields. These together were to be known as Six Acre Close on which there was a well and windmill, thus making for the site of Carnaby Street as we know it today.

Taking its name from Karnaby House, originally erected in 1693, Carnaby Street was laid out around 1685. The street itself has gone from fashion to fashion and has always been synonymous with trade; with a market having begun in the 1820s. In his 1845 novel, Sybil, Benjamin Disraeli referred to a once famous carcase butcher in Carnaby market, which would’ve no doubt sat among a mass of traders. From 1850 to the early 20th century, the area became heavy populated by tailors, dressmakers and ancillary trades, thus serving West-End shops and Savile Row tailors nestled behind Regent Street. Trade, however, was soon encouraged with the opening of clubs and music venues around Carnaby; The Florence Mills Social Club (a jazz club and gathering spot for advocates of Pan-Africanism) being opened by Amy Ashwood Garvey and Sam Menning in 1934 at no. 50.

By the late 1950s, men’s fashion had begun its lasting descent upon Carnaby when His Clothes was opened in 1958 by Glaswegian John Stephen. He was the first entrepreneur to identify and sell to the young menswear market which began its emergence in the 50s and 60s. A widely regarded pioneer, Stephen became one of the most important figures of 1960s fashion, voicing the bold claim “Carnaby is my creation” in 1967. Stephen was widely regarded as the founder of men’s Mod fashion, whether Carnaby was indeed his creation is a matter of debate. Nonetheless, he was a purveyor and designer of sharp tailoring and clothes for the 1960s Mods, with his exuberant array of clients including staples of the era such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces and Jimi Hendrix.

By the mid-‘60s, Carnaby Street had become the UK’s thriving home of men’s fashion, with Carnaby, Newburgh, Ganton and Kingly quite literally inundated with fashion boutiques all chasing Stephen’s own endeavour. Stores such as I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, Kleptomania, Mates and Ravel, to name a few of the array, honed in on the area. Soon designers such as Mary Quant, Lord John, Merc, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars were to come to locate themselves on Carnaby also.

The trend that Garvey and Menning began in 1934 with The Florence Mills Social Club continued below the very surface of Carnaby, with a variety of underground music bars nestled beneath the boutiques above. Music bars, such as the Roaring Twenties, in the surrounding streets became the norm: with bands such as the Small Faces, the Who, and the Rolling Stones frequenting the area to shop and socialise. Infamously, Carnaby quickly became a staple destination of the Swinging London of the 1960s. Awareness spread to North America and internationally in April 1966 when Time magazine published an article detailing the role of the street in Swinging London, describing Carnaby Street as three-blocks crammed with a cluster of boutiques.

Amid this clustering of boutiques and clubs along the buzz of Carnaby and its many corridors, it is no wonder that it came to be pedestrianised in 1973 by the Greater London Council, and now vehicular access is restricted between 11am and 7am. A comparison of the number of pedestrians entering the pedestrianised area indicated a 30% increase of a flow into Carnaby Street as a result of the pedestrianisation. A campaign commenced early 2010 to call for a similar exercise to be undertaken in the adjacent area of Soho.

On into the 1970s and 80s and Carnaby continued on as a destination for youth subculture. From the likes of punks, including the Sex Pistols, to rockers and goths; Carnaby continued to be a home for youth and inventiveness, where individuals flocked to leave their shells. In the late 70s, a Mod revival struck, helmed by bands such as The Jam, led by Paul Weller who was as much of a regular face of Carnaby in his teenage years as he still is today. This again brought the humming sound of a small army of Lambrettas and Vespas to the area, a humming which is still heard today on Carnaby from time-to-time. The energy itself is captured in the very fibre of the area in its distinction, quality shops, pubs and restaurants.

The narcissistic Mods that came to Carnaby to be seen and heard in the 1960s have come to helm the face of Carnaby’s history. Though still, beyond the heyday of this street which lasted but 10 years is a well- hidden tale of Soho’s rich heritage of trade and craftsmanship. Though it seems oh so tempting to cross thoughts of Carnaby with the Mods and peacocks of an era we shan’t forget, Carnaby is more than just a place, it is a rich heritage of the Soho we know today – a dedicated follower of fashion, a welcomer of the world.

George Skeggs

George Skeggs


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible; they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave…”

They have become a rarity in recent years… Soho’s characters. Where dandies and mods once hung at street corners to be noticed, people now go about their routines, unaware of the eccentric creatives that flourished in this area. Though there are still, in present day Soho a handful of the old brigade of artists and writers wandering the streets of Soho, many luminaries have passed while countless others have started to face their untimely extinction. But one seemingly immortal Sohoite stands out. Though well known well by residents and transients alike for a curiously chic sartorial sense, this man has a lot more under his hat than a distinctive taste for clothing by fine tailors.

To the many that espy him day-by-day, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine George Skeggs had some work related link to fashion, what with his eye-catching choice of tailoring. Little do those who stop to stare and photograph him realise that behind this impressive veil of style is a brilliant pop-art/surrealist artist. From a working-class background, George is one of four children. As a youngster, he was urged by his family to find a serious job that would keep him afloat. Though he never attended art school, a teacher recognised his talents at an early age, and recommended a creative vocation. Some early work was included in the London Schools Exhibition touring China. He then went to join in art workshops at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, while years later, his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Museum of Wales.

As a youngster, George long aspired to be in a skiffle band, having played a homemade bass instrument. His relationship with music is coincidentally what led him to Soho for the very first time. A Rock ’n’ Roll enthusiast at the mere age of 14, George came to Soho upon hearing that 1950s Rock ’n’ Roll BBC television show,‘Six-Five Special’, was to be broadcast live from The 2i’s Coffee Bar, Old Compton Street. “It was like another world; there were girls on the street propositioning men and pimps on the street,”says George on his first trip to the area. Later, he returned with a friend, arriving at Tottenham Court Road tube station. “It had that edge; it was dirty, flashy and seedy. You could always smell Soho, it always had that special smell. When you were walking up from Oxford Street, you could literally smell it. It was the place to be, it was our playground.”

His younger years in Soho brought him face-to-face with the often dark reality of the neighbourhood. From the scene of a shoot-out between drug dealers at the Nucleous Coffee Bar, forward through to befriending a young prostitute who’d had her throat slit by a client, George has come to witness the true nature of the neighbourhood first hand. Despite these memories, there is one that is particularly significant. George and friends had come to regularly frequent the amusement arcade Lots of Fun on Wardour Street. It was here that a man offered him and his friends free-play on the pinball machines as well as cigarettes, proceeding to ask where they lived (the East-End) and offering them a lift. Little did they know that this man was the henchman of the Kray twins, who were parked outside in a black car:“Being streetwise, we enjoyed his hospitality and decided to leg it by sneaking out of another door and running right across Leicester Square to safety,”he recalls.

George first moved to Soho in 1963. “I married a local girl, she worked for a famous shoemaker’s in Drury Lane.”He went on to find work with West One Studios, the offset printers and commercial artists. By the 1980s, his marriage having faltered, he succumbed to drink. So badly, that one careless night, he drank so much, he fell and broke his neck. This ended his relationship with the bottle, leaving him with scaffolding around his neck for 3 months.

Having never been to art school, it was at this time that he became involved with the Arts Laboratory scene in Covent Garden and Seven Dials, which was frequently raided by the police. “In being a creative and artistic person you are there to be picked at, you’re there on the wall. Personally, I don’t care. All I care about is just doing it,”he remarks on his work. In addition to his work in recent years having been exhibited in Paris and Caracas, he also produced the album cover sleeve for ARK of the Covenant, based on a painting from his King Arthur series.

With his self-confessed obsession with clothing, from his Stephen Jones hats and Mark Powell Bespoke suits, George has always made style an important part of his life. “Fashion is the enemy of style. Age is no barrier to style, some people just can’t work that out. I’ve become more refined and particular about what I look like as I’ve got older. There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible, they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave.”

Soho has become a part of the social fabric of George’s life and many in the neighbourhood think of George as one the area’s characters. Though superficially he feels much of the area looks much the same, he feels it’s very different today. “You walk up Old Compton Street now and see brand new shops appearing. I think of other shops in the area and then realise that they’ve gone. I think it’s lost its edge, its saucy, sleazy side. It feels more interesting to live in a world where you have to take chances or be streetwise.” Now living near Seven Dials, George spends much of his time these days visiting art galleries throughout London. And though he might describe himself as retired, he has recently begun work on his self-proclaimed ‘swan song’; a detailed pop-art/surrealist series centring on Soho. Though keen to keep the details of the series a secret, he revealed that the first piece he has started on will feature the Kray twins, and reflect a highly personal point of view, based on his own experiences in the neighbourhood. “Creativity shines in the dark. You’ve got to bring it out of the dark and put it out there!”

Mice on the Play

Mice on the Play


Words Hayley Quinn

Photography Astrid Schulz


“A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.”

As I was walking down Brewer Street a man appeared next to me, shuffling a deck of cards, “Do you want to party tonight? I know you like it,” he grinned before disappearing down a side alley. No, this isn’t Victorian London, not even the 1960s, this is 2015 and I am a 28 year-old woman in a Soho that hasn’t quite lost its bite and, late at night, as fellow Sohoite, founder of the Skirt Club, Genevieve LeJeune states, “the mice certainly come out to play.”

It’s easy to mistake Soho’s maze of winding streets, long hotel bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants with white linen table clothes as a sign of submission. It feels like a long time since Paul Raymond would have run off to a pornography shoot in a shaggy coat. However, interviewing a selection of women still very much in bed with Soho’s sexual side shows that the old dog still has teeth; albeit of a seemingly less exploitative kind.

I also speak to burlesque performer, Moorita, who reminisces that, “A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.” This commercial churn in Soho has led to a string of Burlesque schools like ‘The Cheek of It’ opening their doors (alongside their drawers) to a new breed of Burlesque stars. As every few weeks a new star is born, but a saturated market means that without a distinct ‘edge’ many acts will now go ‘homeless’. Mooritaa tells me that “there is almost no demand from producers and club owners for classic burlesque (nice lingerie + nice moves),” she pauses red-lipped, and describes how her own show differs, “story based, weird and intellectually provocative,” I will only say you will never look at a stuffed animal in quite the same way again…

Now, Moorita is a lady who is very comfortable in her sexuality. When describing how she feels during a performance, “proud and exhilarated” are the two words that purr out first. However, her steely business mind (and day job as CEO of her own tech company) and alpha female personality radiate through with equal strength. I have also spoken to Sonia, another astute European brunette, with a tongue piercing and a love of laughing wide mouthed to show it. She works as a dancer at Platinum Lace – a new generation strip club on Coventry Street which doubles as a late night club/bar, entertainment venue, and hen party pit stop.

Far from being in any state of coercion, Sonia clearly LOVES her job: “I feel so empowered when I take those two steps onto the stage.” The 2.0 strip club culture has clearly made her job more enjoyable and far from exploitative, “it’s much more relaxed… it’s like a family.” She is also acutely aware of the economics of what she does (unsurprising really as I discover that in the Czech Republic she once studied business and accountancy). Sonia knows blunt ‘do you want a dance?’ tactics won’t fly in a club space that sees as many women and couples as it does male bachelors. She has her own client base, which she makes an effort to entertain by dancing until 4am most nights in order to build her profile. There is a lightness and enjoyment that radiates from her when I ask if she enjoys being people’s fantasy object, “I love it! I almost make them promise… before they go to sleep, when they’re in the shower, when they’re you know,” she giggles, “relieving themselves!”

This collaborative effort is reflected by the club’s ownership which networks along the Southern edge of Soho with the hotel bars, nightclubs and hidden speakeasies that border China Town: “They recommend each other, there’s generally a very good vibe amongst the clubs and the other venues.” Rather than seeking out a seedy punter, strip clubs in Soho are now much more mass market – and a place I have often headed for a nightcap in the last 5 years – the low music volumes inside are conducive for 3am conversations.

Everything is exceedingly ‘above board’. In fact, the most ‘underground’ aspect of the Soho sex scene I delved into was an entirely female project: aggravated by the ‘butch’ climate of Soho’s lesbian bars, Genevieve set up ‘Skirt Club’, the UK’s (and possibly the world’s) first bisexual/bicurious women only party; for girls on the Kinsey scale of ‘curiosity’. Recognising a niche for the lady about town who would like to meet other such well-heeled girls, Genevieve went about single-handedly crafting a party tailored to her clienteles’ desire of anonymity and adventure. “At Skirt Club you are effectively anonymous. Boyfriends and husbands are left at home. Friends and family will never know. There are zero prying eyes. So the night is yours to make what you want of it. Body tequila or bubble bath?” This need for discretion has meant a relocation from the bar scene to ‘privately owned penthouses’ where her clients can explore away from prying eyes of anyone outside of Skirt Club’s rigorous membership tests. The barriers to entry also run for Soho’s most prestigious nightspots, including (of course) the ubiquitous The Box. Having been enslaved to its savage door policy, coupled with frantic stage show, I am a confirmed… probably through virtue of having tried so hard to get in.

The Box is in the ‘historical venue’ of the Raymond Revuebar and takes pride in carrying on Soho’s seedy tradition with nightly shows of a sexual nature, striptease and door girls dressed like dominatrices. If anything, its popularity, celebrity and cult following is a testament to how sexual entertainment is now a desirable item in the public space. From high profile nightclubs, to female friendly strip clubs and sex parties it would be easy to chalk Soho up as having achieved an odd kind of gender equality in its exploits. However, many a side street doorway marked ‘models’, with narrow Victorian stairwells leading up to a realm of God-knows-what, tell a different story. “I’ve never seen a prostitute on the streets, at 3-4am in the morning. It’s maybe not direct, there are places to go, though I don’t know in detail,” Sonia gossips, aware of her own employer’s strict rules for employee engagement levels. She does give titbit details though, of shadowy figures, places where people can go long after all the traditional venues shut, and (intriguingly) taxis driving away. So, maybe as Skirt Club moves East and West with its new locations, it seems the oldest profession in the world may also have largely decamped from W1.

As a dating expert with more than a professional curiosity for all things sexual, I can say I’ve never felt unsafe in Soho, and have all but been entertained by its parties (public and private), its titillation and its conspiratorial charm. Whilst I hope that shady figures, and certain doorways, soon fade completely from the area’s backdrop, I doubly hope the female friendly exploits remain intact. It would be a shame if Soho were just nice hotels, and bespoke cafés. As Sonia remarks, to which I greatly agree, “It’s my playground too.”

Molly Parkin

Molly Parkin


Words & Photography Robert Chilcott


“I met Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, all people of that ilk. All people of that ilk. Where else would you meet them except in Soho?”

Molly Parkin is 83 and now prefers life in the garden, a veritable paradise of palm trees and plastic Buddhas, castaway in Chelsea’s World’s End.  Currently appearing on BBC4’s Bohemian series with Victoria Coren-Mitchell, she reminisces over a Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, about the halcyon days of post-war Britain, and the forbidden allure of W1. “Sohoitis, the state of it, really applies to those who live on their addictions. And Soho is utterly addictive. It’s not a dreamy state of being, Sohoitis.” She laughs. “You don’t go to Soho for a pleasant afternoon, perhaps tea out and then go home! Soho is limitless in the hours that you spend there. It did take over my life. The very first time that I went there I knew that something so extraordinary was in the air.”

Molly first came to London from the Welsh Valley to live with her grandparents 1939. Fresh from studying Fine Arts, as a 22 year old chapel girl, she shared a flat with her friends, Judy and Betty in Earl’s Court. “I had chamomile lotion all over my face, very, very pale, lots of black pencil all around the eyes. A lot of black hair, I was really based on Juliette Greco.”  Her earliest Soho memories are of The Studio Club in Swallow Street, run by the artist John Minton. “I said to Judy, ‘These men are all asking me what I want to drink and I don’t what to say to them,’ and she said, ‘Oh you are so quaint darling. Well what you say is a gin and Dubonnet please, and make it a double because a single won’t begin to touch it.’” Molly reminisces on her innocence at the time. “Well I didn’t realise at the time – gin and Dubonnet – that’s two alcoholic drinks merged into one. I thought that Dubonnet was like cordial or something. So, when the next person asked ‘Can I buy you lovely girls a drink?’ I said ‘Yes, I would like a gin and Dubonnet, but make it a double because a single won’t begin to touch it.’ He burst out laughing. I asked, ‘can I have a straw please, because it’ll go down quicker then,’ as if it was in a candy shop. So I drank it all in one. And I smacked my lips and said ‘Wow!’” That wasn’t all though, as Molly continues her anecdote, “So his friend asked, ‘Can I buy you a second?’ ‘Yeah’ I answered, ‘I shouldn’t say so, but I said again, ‘make it a double because a single doesn’t begin to touch it.’ And he burst out laughing. Well, I was nearly carried out of there.”

It wasn’t long before Molly was introduced to the Colony Room. “I went up those scruffy stairs, I thought ‘Christ! What is this place?’ And there I was, quite frightened really, because I’d never seen faces like that – so lived in, and yet so sophisticated. Brendan Behan was there – and Colin MacInnes. There was pounding on the jazz piano. What was different was there were a lot of writers, and I started listening to how they constructed their sentences – it was a different way of conversation, the way they spoke, however much they’d had to drink. It was such a tiny place, yet brimming with benevolence. They all shouted ‘Come back, Moll. When will you be coming again?’ and I said I could be here tomorrow.” Molly laughs candidly, “and I was there tomorrow. You see, Sohoitis had already captured my heart and soul, introduced me to heaven. Not everybody would have thought it was heaven. But I knew that I’d come home.”

In 1965, traumatised by her first divorce, Molly’s painting muse disappeared. Molly’s situation led to her accepting the job of fashion editor at Nova magazine, in order to support her two small daughters, which didn’t sit lightly with her ideals, as she tells me of a mantra she learnt whilst studying: “If you had been trained as an intellectual, art for art’s sake, you can expect to be a waitress for the rest of your life, but move amongst artists. In art school they said if you are going to specialise as a painter you stick with other fine art students, and you avoid, more than anything, the shallowness of the fashion crew, who only think about putting clothes on models. And people who specialise in illustration, because when they leave they are going to be in advertising – the lowest of the low, culturally speaking. Well to be a fashion editor to me seemed like the lowest you can really sink.”

Molly says that during this time she never went to the Colony “I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I just used to go to Terratza. That was around the corner. I was slugging wine – that is when my drinking started to get out of control, and delightfully so. I started taking on a lot of lovers. I’d go to Paris and pick up things you couldn’t find in London from the collections. But I didn’t feel like I belonged with the intellectuals in the Colony. I so highly regarded it.”

After a stint at Harper’s, Molly found herself doing five years on The Sunday Times Look pages, “I was taught to write there, and strangely enough that’s when I started to go back to the Colony: again, with other writers. I was on the television a lot. It doesn’t take much, the hospitality of all of that, to make you lose your nerves. So by the time I got on the telly I didn’t know what I was saying.”

Molly gave up drinking at 55 and soon after her painting muse, absent for 30 years, returned. The life Molly describes, and the Soho she talks of does seem to have gone. Are people there still living that life, or are they simply living it somewhere else? I ask her, “You had to be free to give all of yourself to Soho. That was my experience. And now that I’m 83 and sitting in the garden, in the bower, I’m so thrilled that I had that time in Soho”.

It’s saddening to learn that Molly rarely goes to Soho these days. “It broke my heart recently – the final downturn for me was when, arguably one of the best art stockists, Cowling and Wilcox, ‘round the corner from Berwick Street market, that’s gone. I said to the lovely chaps that sell vegetables, it’s as if the soul of the place has disappeared from the body. It’s too depressing for words what’s happening to London. I never thought I’d say this: the Sohoitis, it doesn’t exist anymore.”

Lina Stores


Words Jason Holmes

Photography Manu Zafra


“The shop is usually buzzing with the chatter of Italian accents. Decades ago Italians would have lived and worked in Soho…”

Businesses have come and gone in Soho down the ages, but one has managed to survive for more than seventy years. Behind Lina Stores’ green door lies a gourmand’s bounty. This is the bel paese in microcosm, and one of the last of the original Italian delicatessens to survive the countless makeovers that have scarred the bohemian quarter’s noble face.

As a mecca for homesick Italians in search of a taste of home – where a coffee machine sweats steam in a quiet corner of the shop as customers come and go – Lina Stores has never disappointed. Hidden in plain sight at 18 Brewer Street, the shop was founded in the 1940s by a lady from Genova, Lina, who remains something of an enigma. “I suppose it was quite unusual for a woman to go into business alone back then, but the nature of Lina’s business was fairly commonplace among Italian immigrants at the time,” says Helen Lenarduzzi, Lina Stores’ buyer. “A combination of the large Italian community in Soho, a desire to hold on to Italian gastronomic traditions and perhaps a mediocre grasp of English that would have made other forms of employment more difficult will have made opening an Italian delicatessen an obvious decision.”

Today’s decision is to keep the business safely within the family. Massimo Perdoni serves as the shop manager and has said in the past that Soho has changed tenfold since Lina Stores was founded 70 years ago, yet it’s to an establishment like Lina Stores that people come to glimpse something of the old Soho. Lenarduzzi agrees: “Lina Stores has always had an iconic look, so it would have been a travesty to abandon it. There would have been an outcry from customers if we had. There’s something about our white and green stripes that seems to appeal to customers.” The deli’s staff are all Italian, and there’s a constant footfall of Italians popping in for a quick coffee. “The shop is usually buzzing with the chatter of Italian accents. Decades ago Italians would have lived and worked in Soho, but now the majority commute in.”

“Back in the early days, most of the customers would have been homesick Italians, due to the large number of Italians that migrated to the UK in the post-war years. But in more recent times there has been another wave of immigration of young Italians looking for opportunities that are sadly unavailable in their home country.”

London, as it has done over the centuries, still stands resolute as a beacon for those seeking to better themselves, the city’s very culture woven from the cultures of those who serve it. “Back in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s Lina Stores was one of many Italian delis in Soho, but over the years almost all of them have disappeared,” adds Lenarduzzi. “There was also a new threat from supermarkets stocking similar items that were available in the small independents. So the key to our survival has been our willingness to move with the times. We are more focused on representing smaller, more artisan producers and there’s something infinitely more reassuring about being able to discuss the history and nature of a product with the grandson of a small company’s founder than having emails passed from pillar to post in a multinational organisation.”

Business has thrived because of the commitment of Perdoni and Lenarduzzi. “We import from all over Italy. Italian food is so diverse it would be hard to justify not doing so. The way people in Italy eat varies enormously from region to region and we pride ourselves on having a selection of products from all over the country.” But Lina Stores also sets itself apart from other delis by having more than one string to its bow. “A lot of homemade food is made on site which forms the backbone of our services. It’s lovely to hear customers telling the shop staff about their childhood memories of the ravioli they bought from us.”

But should an independent like Lina Stores be worried about the effect the Crossrail project will have on the area? Lenarduzzi is chagrined: “It’s heart-wrenching to hear about all of these special buildings and institutions that are under threat. London as a whole seems to be facing a wave of demolition that values so-called modernisation over heritage.”

“I have a horrible feeling that there will be cries of ‘What did we do!’ emanating from all corners of London within the next 20 to 30 years. If something is torn down and replaced by something that in the long run is a poor substitute, there’s no going back. The trouble with buildings is that it’s an irreversible gamble. And the argument that more people will be able to visit Soho thanks to Crossrail doesn’t hold much weight if the heart and soul that has driven visitors to the area in the past has been ripped out.”

With this in mind, Soho as the cultural heart of London has skipped a few beats of late, but it remains business and usual for this independent. “The secret to running a modern business in 21st century London to achieve a balance between forward-thinking without losing a sense of where you came from and how you got to where you are,” says Lenarduzzi. “We’re acutely aware that one of the things customers enjoy most about our shop is the interaction they have with the staff.”

With actors like John Hurt, celebrity chefs, restaurateurs and politicians stopping by to stock up, Lina Stores succeeds in selling traditional merchandise to a city that finds itself in the grip of change. When Lenarduzzi says that “nothing can come close to visiting an establishment that has stood the test of time,” one comes to understand precisely what all Londoners are in danger of losing forever if we allow ourselves to get used to the kiss of the wrecking ball. History, lest we forget, has shown that London and its immigrant communities have made Soho. What grows together goes together.

Algerian Coffee Stores

Algerian Coffee Stores


Words Ezra Axelrod

Photography Manu Zafra


“If you ripped out the original fixtures, made it nice and shiny, you could say it’s from 1887, but where’s the charm in that?”

For the past 128 years, something has been brewing at 52 Old Compton Street. The seductive aroma drifts into the street and grabs creatives as they hurry to work. It stops wide-eyed tourists in their tracks. It shakes the upstairs neighbours awake. Its strength lures them through the small red door and into a temple devoted to a small brown bean. Welcome to the Algerian Coffee Stores.

On a street where institutions boldly mark their territory – and the fleeting and fashionable cling for survival – the Algerian Coffee Stores firmly stands its ground, with a flock of faithful customers and new converts cramming into the cosy shop to stock up on their favourite roasts. Originally opened in 1887 by an Algerian merchant named Mr Hassan, and passing through various hands over the decades, the shop has spent the past 43 years under owner, Paul Crocetta, and his family. The Crocettas have preserved much of the original décor, including hardwood counters and bright red shelves packed with hundreds of coffees (and teas) from every corner of the world. “If you ripped out the original fixtures, made it nice and shiny, you could say it’s from 1887, but where’s the charm in that?” Paul’s daughter Marisa, who helps run the shop, asks.

Marisa says that the shop takes its heritage very seriously, and their customers are equally serious in their relationship to the drink. “People are very into coffee: they want to know about what they’re buying and how to make it right.” Today, coffee is one of the world’s top three preferred beverages next to water and tea, powering our global quest for improved cognition and enhanced energy. Our love affair with the drink is ancient: the coffee tree is native to Ethiopia and Sufi mystics were spreading the miracle beans and their murky brew throughout the Middle East as early as the 13th century. If today coffee consumption feels like a religious rite, that’s probably because traditionally these mystics drank to achieve a heightened state of alertness while chanting prayers.

The Algerian Coffee Stores benefits from its prime location at the heart of London’s most influential neighbourhood, and it’s safe to say that the shop has been instrumental in fuelling Britain’s conversion to coffee. In the shop, the lively international staff are eager to instruct coffee enthusiasts on the ideal caffeine fix or the perfect flavour for a brew. “If you want the full effects of a high caffeine content,” explains Marisa, “it’s best to go with the Indonesian Sulawesi Kalossi, Brazilian Bourbon, or Bolivian High Roast.” But Marisa points out that the classic “jolt” associated with coffee can be psychological, a response to an intense flavour, and recommends customers experiment with their preferred roast, whether it be an earthy, edgy Costa Rican, a smooth Colombian, or something in-between.

Being surrounded by coffee all day, you might wonder if the staff have grown tired of drinking the beverage. “We still like coffee,” says Marisa, “and we’ll drink it throughout the day, maybe five or six cups, depends on the day.” And what about the aroma that entices so many passers-by, can the staff still feel it? “In the morning you smell it, but as the day goes on, you stop being aware of it. The other day, I had changed my clothes and was on the train home, but suddenly I smelled coffee everywhere. I realised it had worked its way into my skin!”

Some coffee drinkers might be looking for an alternative (it’s okay, we’ve all been there.) Priding itself on being au fait with global warm beverage traditions and cults, the Algerian Coffee Stores has a whole shelf devoted to the Argentinian tea and national pastime, yerba mate. Toted as having even more kick than coffee but without the jitters, yerba mate is intensely bitter and not for the faint hearted. It’s prepared by stuffing a gourd (simply called ‘the mate’ in Spanish) with the loose-leaf tea, pouring in hot water, and drinking through a metal straw called a bombilla. The tea comes with a cultural mandate to drink in a communal setting, passing the gourd around a circle of friends, new acquaintances or even strangers.

This is the charm of the Algerian Coffee Stores: browsing its shelves is an adventure into so many traditions and far-flung corners of the world, a reminder of places we’ve lived or visited, and the moments we shared over a cup of our favourite roast. Beyond the beans and the tea leaves, shelves are adorned with the most appropriate array of sweet accompaniments, from panforte to Turkish delights to marzipan biscuits. While many of the treats are provided by specialist vendors, Marisa says that sometimes it’s a sweet memory that brings an item into the shop: “I remember years ago in France, I had these amazing cognac-soaked, marzipan and chocolate-coated raisins, and I’ve been searching for them since. I finally found them, they are the François Doucet chocolates here,” she explains, pointing to the colourful packets next to the till. It is in this way that the Corcetta family has succeeded in carrying on the tradition of one of Soho’s treasures, while bringing to it a personal, familiar touch that inspires customers to be passionate coffee connoisseurs.

Over the centuries, from the Sufi mystics bringing coffee from Ethopia to Mr Hassan bringing it to the streets of Soho, this bitter bean has enchanted humans. And if the continued increase in business at the Algerian Coffee Stores is any indication, the temple to coffee on Old Compton Street is here to stay.

Mark Powell

Mark Powell


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


I still think Soho is very much about the people and that’s what I want to celebrate…”

He straightens his tie, eyes me across the desk, where I sit pondering my first question, and says, “I’m in a bad mood today.” Then there’s a twinkle in the eye, the flash of a smile and he says, “No, I’m alright actually.” If ever there was a thing called Soho charm that was it.

Mark Powell is probably as Soho as you can get. Born in London but brought up in Romford, Essex, he has become one of the characters that this famous area can be proud of. “My mum, she worked in the theatre and I think that was some of the reason why I do what I do. She used to work for Charles Fox who became famous for their make-up, but they were costumiers. She’d walk me round Soho, go to Carnaby Street and I was fascinated by all the shops.”

So how did he become the man who has appeared on the pages of Esquire & GQ and dressed celebrities from George Michael to Naomi Campbell – “I was into fashion from a very young age. I got my first pair of Levis when I was six or seven years old. I was a first generation Soul boy, always individual, always into style, followed the crowd early on but then started to think outside the box. To realise the power of dress, how significant that could be with giving you credibility, giving you a better reputation in certain ways. Course I was a West-Ham fan and we were far more stylish than the other clubs. When we were growing up in the ‘70s there was still very much that working class ethic of trying to be individuals and stand out from the crowd because you were from a quite humble, ordinary background. But it was the power of dress.”

After starting out at gentleman’s outfitters, Washington Tremlett on Conduit Street, Mark opened his first store on Archer Street in 1985.  Initially selling vintage suits from the ‘40s onwards, he developed his own style and, as he says of those days, “The early Mark Powell look which defined what I do was the Edwardian style. Back then I was doing Covert coats as suits, maybe in velvet or a Prince of Wales check. Also, the Gangster thing, when Lock Stock happened I couldn’t bare it – it all became a bit of a parody. I think the key thing is taking elements of street style, embracing the Savile Row thing and then updating the look.  Tailoring is the way for a guy to express his own individual style.”

So what of his link to the Krays and his own, albeit brief, spell inside – “A mate of mine was very connected in the underworld, he knew Ronnie Kray. We thought at the time it would be a good move because they were about to do that film The Krays. So the measurements were sent by Ron, I sent the suit and then I went to visit him in Broadmoor, and that was in 1988. I was only inside for a driving offence and it was a doddle, especially when you know you’re going to be out in a few weeks. It was a stupid thing that happened when I was an arrogant young man.”

Leaving this period of his life behind him, Mark has now expanded his business with a Read-to-Wear collection, and is soon to introduce an Online Shop. He remains an inspiration to such gentlemen as Paul Weller, Bradley Wiggins & Martin Freeman – “I think someone like Martin does that thing of looking Modern & Contemporary very well. He doesn’t look all Mod but you can see he takes his influences from the whole Mod ethic and he’s got great style. Martin became a customer six/seven years ago and in fact, even though we have done maybe three or four bespoke suits, he’s still very much a ready to wear client. He loves coming in, picking up a suit and then we do the adjustments on it.”

“Bradley then heard me on the Modcast, came in and thank god for Bradley because he’s been an amazing client. I think he looks great, very stylish. Weller somehow pulls it off just because it’s Paul Weller maybe. But when you get the older guys try and copy Paul they look a bit of a joke. The whole thing about a guy being a Mod was they were always moving on and evolving.”

So what does he think of the gentrification of the Soho he has come to know and love? “I was a bit pissed off at first, but this is the way of the world now and unfortunately it is the corporate world. Soho’s secret ingredient was always having wonderful independent, family run businesses. There’re characters & faces that have been born and are still living in Soho ‘cos there is a lot of social housing – people forget that. I know everybody round here, I always have done. I knew Paul Raymond, I used to know all the dodgy landlords, the gangsters, the beggars on the street & the hustlers in all the alleyways, and I’ve made a point of being friendly to everybody. But I know how it works. There’s nothing you can do, all the demonstrating is not going to change it. I still think Soho is very much about the people and that’s what I want to celebrate.”

Given his status as an icon on the streets of Soho is there still some of the hell-raiser of days gone by in his own character now? – “God you’ve done some good research! That was years ago! Of course I still like to enjoy life, you just mellow out don’t you? Some of the stuff that I’ve done and did would be legendary. I’ve been toying about doing a book for about ten years now. I’ve just decided not to do it because it’d be too controversial really.”

The smile and the twinkle have returned and, as we wind up, I ask him what he’d like his legacy to be. “I’d like to be remembered as a very pioneering and passionate person with regard to my style and what I do and also being a quite eclectic & important part of what Soho is because I’ve been involved in every layer of it, whether it be as an artisan, or on the dodgy side, or in the club world, ‘cause I had a nightclub round here at one point. Did you know that? It was the first Easy Listening nightclub in London. What was it called? Violet’s… after Ron & Reggie’s Mum!”

Sister Ray

Sister Ray


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Photography Manu Zafra


“I do think people quite like vinyl as a product because it is timeless, it is a fabulous piece of kit, it feels great, it sounds great. You have to engage with it, you have to actually put the damn thing on the record player and half-way through you have to turn it over!”

Those of us old enough to remember our first meeting with vinyl can claim to have experienced an almost religious moment. The dazzling cover art of something like Led Zeppelin IV, the paper sleeve gently holding the beautifully crafted disc of black gold in place, carefully sliding it out to hold at its edges, slowly placing the vinyl down on the turntable and then finally taking the playing arm from its resting place and ever so gently placing it in the groove at the start of the record.  All this before the music has even started!

For Phil Barton of Sister Ray Records on Berwick Street, vinyl has been his life. His introduction to record shops was in Whitstable, where he grew up. “I used to go and buy my Sham 69 7” in a store there, and from then on I thought record shops were really cool. Then I went to college in Nottingham and I used to walk past this shop called Selectadisc, I ended up buying it eventually – one of the stupidest things I ever did!  Anyway I walked in and said ‘can I have a job?’ And they’re like, ‘We haven’t got any!’ So I kept going in and going in until they gave me a job! I was working nights in a pork pie factory and then I was working in the record shop. It was the most fantastic thing I’d ever done.”

Later, whilst enjoying a successful career working for EMI, as a salesman for Parlophone he met Neil Brown who had a record store in Soho.  As he says, “I was one of the first reps to pop in and say do you wanna buy some of our gear? They opened an EMI account and I sold them stock. Not a problem. Back then you could sell anything to anyone.”

For followers of Soho music culture, Number 34 Berwick Street is forever enshrined in popular culture as it features on the front cover of Oasis’ classic album (What’s the story) Morning Glory?. Of course that was when the store was named Selectadisc and was owned by Brian Selby who also owned the store in Nottingham that gave Phil his first stab in the music business, “I’ve known Brian all my life who sadly died a few years ago and he said to me – look I’ve had enough of being in London, do you want to buy the shop? So Neil and I got some money together, the days when you could borrow money, and we bought it. It was a stupid thing to do in 2003 because in 2007 it was on its knees and we went into administration and I bought it back with some help for a ludicrously small amount. We started it up again without any costs and I paid everybody back eventually. We’re still here in 2015, over the road in a new unit and it’s actually making money. For the first time we don’t have to look over our shoulders and think ‘who are we not going to pay this month?’ We’re in a good position and that’s because people are buying vinyl records and the reason I think is that people like shopping, they like the physical piece of product.”

So how have things changed since our love of vinyl has returned even though we seem to be heavily entrenched in the age of downloads and MP3s? Phil seems to think that people have wised up to how music is now being made and marketed – “It’s because downloads don’t sound very good.  Most people don’t back their stuff up really. So, if your computer gets corrupted or whatever, then you’ve lost it all. I do think people quite like vinyl as a product because it is timeless, it is a fabulous piece of kit, it feels great, it sounds great. You have to engage with it, you have to actually put the damn thing on the record player and halfway through you HAVE to turn it over!”

As a fan of The Who and The Clash, with a pretty impressive record collection himself what does he think of the current music scene? “I’m not gonna knock it because it’s a sound in itself. There’s probably going to be a genre that we’ll look back at in 10 years’ time and it’ll be MP3 Pop or something because there’s no physical record of a lot of it. A lot of stuff kids are exchanging will never exist on anything other than MP3. A lad who used to work here has gone to work for a dance label and they don’t release anything physically.”

There’s been a Sister Ray, named after the Velvet Underground song, in Soho since the shop first opened at 94 Berwick Street, down at the Market end, 1988, which is due to be redeveloped in the next 6 months.  At one time there were 20 record shops in Soho, a specialist shop for every single genre you could imagine, but now there are only six left.  After being on the street nearly 27 years, Phil can be proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved over that time. “I don’t look over my shoulder and think they were the good old days. You have to look forward, you have to realise that things are different. What I do love is that I do love vinyl records and I do realise that there is a niche for someone doing it really well and if your shop looks good and you have a good amount of stock, interesting stock, and every time you walk in there’s something different there then people keep coming back and I like that.  I like to think that what we do here people appreciate because we work really hard at it. We clean the records, we grade the records, we look after the stock. We take a bit of pride in what we do and we really want to put on a show so when people walk in they’re like ‘Oh wow!’”

With vinyl back on the up once more and the likes of Paul Weller, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page walking through the doors to purchase albums from Mod to Blues, World Music and beyond, as well as another Record Store Day looming in April, life is pretty good for this Soho institution. But for Phil his most favourite moment of the last quarter of a century was when an exhibition on The Clash was held in Berwick Street. The Sister Ray store was used as a chill out area and, as Phil remembers, “To have Mick Jones stand downstairs in your shop, rolling a spliff on your photocopier, going ‘I love your shop mate it’s great’ and them being my favourite band of all time, ever… it’s rather nice!

Berwick Street cries out loud…

Berwick Street cries out loud…


Words Laurence Glynne

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


It is 12:00 midday, I have just left a meeting and all I can think is that I must go to Soho. I have to buy my fruit and vegetables for a special dinner party. My wife is fairly OCD when it comes to entertaining and I am OTT when it comes to food being the chef chez nous, and quality of grub is a priority when I am cooking! So I am racing along Wells Street, Fitzrovia, to cross over Oxford Street into Berwick Street, but wait a moment! This street has a history and is lined with Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Deco buildings to admire (though admittedly some not so admirable) on our way along this “micro gem” of a street. Surrounded also by warehouse buildings, office blocks making architectural statements, many with delicious façades, others not so appealing to the eye, but hey that’s what gives the area it’s ‘Sohemian’ vibe, and I don’t use this term loosely because there is definitely a vibe in this precious West End spot.

Now I have reached my destination at the southern end, on the corner of Peter Street and Berwick Street, have also passed Noel, D’arblay, Broadwick to mention a few. “Hi Dennis, what is Darren on?” I say. “Oh matey he never stops, been doing it for years, bursting my ears.”

I am laden with fruit and vegetable goodies from his stall before I head back to my office. I leave Berwick Street market still loud, bustling, manic, alive and vibrant which is the norm, particularly as it is lunchtime. With No. 56 almost kissing the corner of Oxford Street on the north-side leading all the way to Peter Street; this is where the Berwick story begins.

Records show that, in 1585, there was no Soho, let alone any streets. And all that could be heard was the haunting cry “Soho” for the best part of the century. Darren, John & Ross were all shouting three hundred and five years later in the late 1980s, offering their flowers, fruit and veg, “Fill yer boots with banana-lana at 19p a pound.”

Berwick Street is not just about the market, far from it. This patchwork quilted thoroughfare, built in 1687 to 1703, was named thus after James Fitzjames, the first Duke of Berwick, illegitimate son of James II and Arabella Churchill. Booze, fashion and music all contributed to this remarkable Soho pitch, surprisingly rich historic treasure. The Green Man site has been occupied by a tavern dating back as early as 1738 and the antique lighting shop, W. Sitch & Co are still trading since the 1870s – today it is the oldest surviving shop. They supplied lighting for films such as Titanic and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and numerous other notable films.

Rags to riches has been the theme for years and still continues, known as ‘the guinea gown shops’ competing with Oxford Street, trading often at half the price, is only half of the picture. Legendary tailor Eddie Kerr made his name in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and his son continues dressing his clients to this day. Gaze up at the pattern of tailors above the shops plying their trade. The Silk Society, Mison Fabrics, The Cloth House, Berwick St Cloth Shop and menswear boutique Oliver Spencer ensure the fashion scene (thank goodness) remains.

“The golden mile of vinyl” in the 1980s brings music echoing along the street, supported by independent renowned stores, Reckless Records, The Music and Video Exchange and Sister Ray play their sounds in the immediate vicinity. Soho and music go together like love and marriage, fish and chips, sex and rock n’ roll. It’s still cutting a groove!

The infamous John Profumo unveiled a famous blue plaque in memory of the Jessie Matthews (a famous actress and dancer in the 1920s) on the wall of the blue post public house, whilst columnist Jeffery Bernard viewed the street from Kemp House, overlooking the market from his flat on the 14th floor. Marc Bolan (the late and infamous founder of T. Rex) evidently worked on his mums stall in the market in the ‘60s. The street was later to become the location for the cover art of the legendary Oasis album (What’s the story?) Morning Glory.

This brings me back to our flower man John who works with Ronnie of Ronnie’s Flowers opposite Kemp House which, at the moment, has not yet been pedestrianised, as has part of the street from Broadwick Street. Originally, he worked roman market where Alan Sugar (Amstrad) and Mr. Cohen (Tesco) began trading. Now, 20 years later, John is still selling a bunch or two to regulars who prefer the fresh market vibe than going to a multiple, but this is sadly an exception to the rule. He chats with his neighbour’s son on the stalls and in the cafés opposite who have also been there for many years but will soon be gone as the site is being redeveloped, they are unlikely to be offered alternative units and cannot afford the replacements.

Will the street talk continue on as the norm on Berwick Street? “Morning luvvie, how yer doin’? Family alright? How’s bizz, not ‘arf cold innit” will not be communal much longer only to see retail units raising the commercial bar, sanitising the street which I would like to still call a Soho gem. This is progression but let us endeavour to savour our memories and rejoice that some of the history in the street remains. Berwick Street cries out loud.

Other/Shop

Other/Shop


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Photography Manu Zafra


“I think Soho will retain its character in small pockets, it has survived and evolved for so many years, it will be impossible to eradicate completely.”

It’s easy to forget that, amongst the brands, super brands and chains that line Carnaby Street and the surrounding avenues of Newburgh, Kingly et al. this area was once a quiet backwater off Regent Street that attracted little attention to many. But, in 1958 when John Stephen opened the boutique, His Clothes, on Carnaby Street and began the tendency for youth orientated stores playing loud pop music, with brightly coloured window displays and young staff, he opened the flood gates to a trend that is still going strong to this very day.

Take the few steps off the main parade, turn onto Kingly Street and you’ll come across a men’s and ladies fashion store called OTHER/Shop, a name that could quite easily sit comfortably back in the swinging ‘60s heyday, with stores such as Kleptomania and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet.

Speaking to Matthew Murphy of OTHER/Shop, who have been in their current premises for nearly 4 years, it seems that things are changing just as quickly as they did back in the day – for the store, the dramatic changes in such a short period have been astonishing, not just on Kingly Street but the whole of Soho. “It has retained its heart of being the centre of London and birth place of so many iconic London caricatures, but there is now a new wave of energy from a resurgence of independent stores, galleries, and an explosion of great quality/value restaurants,” he explains.

The Fashion world is notoriously fickle and I am curious to know from Matthew what sets them apart from the local competition. As he says of the area, “The great thing about Kingly Street is that it exists as an island and, although linked to the Carnaby area, has an independent feel. With Liberty, a pillar of independence, anchoring one end of the street and Sadie Coles, one of London’s most successful contemporary art galleries, at the opposite end, it almost feels like an oasis alongside the busy Carnaby Street,” the difference is having the time to talk to customers and offering a personal service. Matthew agrees that “this approach builds our community. We stand by our vision of independence and for as long as we can, offer an alternative view of retail in general within a busy thoroughfare.”

Tempting those die hard customers away from the perceived safety of the big brands towards something more individual can be difficult but, according to Matthew, it would appear that OTHER/Shop has gained and continues to attract a healthy client base that is a hugely mixed demographic of all ages and types. “We obviously see a good amount of visitors who are transient, but we do tend to see the same customers every time they visit the city. We have a lot of people from the arts and creatives, but we also have a lot of customers that like to be a little more individual, I believe this is the common link between all of our customers,” he says.

As an independent store with their own label, but also stocking key fashion brands, I wonder whether they keep an eye on trends or see it more as setting them themselves. Matthew is keen to point out that they are not advocates of ‘trends’ but that they “believe in taste and style, which generally comes from timeless pieces, which is not to say that our selection of product is by any means ‘classic’ but, if it is not a seasonal trend it becomes a wardrobe staple which evolves.” It’s good to hear that OTHER/Shop want their customers to be inspired and then ‘love’ the items they purchase. “We feel in this way, we will be their first choice destination when looking for something new.”

In this age of disposable fashion, it is comforting to hear a brand talk up the importance of wardrobe staples and not just items destined for the charity shop after a few wears. This is something that is of importance to OTHER/Shop who are conscious of not adding to the issues the world currently has with sustainability. “We try to combat this with communicating the benefit of investment purchases, not trend items that are discarded within weeks of purchasing and end up in more landfill: the counter to the throw-away high street approach. With our own brand we work with UK manufacturers and fabric suppliers both for efficiency and not to add air miles to our carbon footprint,” Matthew says.

As you walk around the light and well laid out store, you get the impression that the collection could almost have been curated rather than merchandised. Matthew is keen to impress on me how the brands are selected for the store. The focus is to only add something that they feel is missing from the existing collection, whether it is the style of a brand or product, or simply because it excites them and hopefully their customers too. As he says, “There is such a huge pool of talented designers and brands that it gets harder each season to stay focused but, as the main focus of the store is our own brand, we can only carry a certain amount of additional brands”.

And, when it comes to their own brand, they approach it very meticulously. Matthew says, “Myself, Kirk and our women’s designer, Loukia, start every new collection with a mood board meeting, discussing our inspirations, feel for the season, and then previous season performance. Our collection evolves based on key signatures; it is not a conceptual, catwalk collection but an expansion on creating modern, wearable clothes that compliment key pieces.” Interestingly, this evolves from season to season. “Our silhouettes mutate and the fabric selection changes with both seasonality and the inspiration for the collection, but the process always starts with how we develop our ‘signature styles’ to retain their desirability,” he says.

The face of Soho is changing, and perhaps not for the better, but OTHER/Shop are prepared for the worse, but will they be here in a few years’ time? Matthew hopes they will, but concedes that sadly the area may become too rich to support a business like theirs. One can hope that a store like OTHER/Shop will continue to retain their identity, their commitment to their customers both old and new and that they will remain a strong presence in the area for some time to come. After all, why would you choose to have the soulless experience of battling the hoards on Oxford Street when something as well thought out and fashion forward as OTHER/Shop is waiting to service all your fashion needs on the relative calm of Kingly Street?

Babette Kulik

Babette Kulik


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Astrid Schulz


“Soho is a place you can just be who you are, where the actual individual is of importance not the nonsense that is so much part of society…”

A Golden Retriever, a British Bulldog and two Chihuahuas wonder back and forth without a growl or a snigger, amid the lingering of absinth on in the air. Their tales brush the bookshelves where rare first editions of Winnie the Pooh and Trainspotting, along with much naughtier, less traditional paperbacks sit undisturbed, many of which are closely guarded behind panes of glass. Though, really, is this wonderful place a bookshop or a bar? The striking Babette Kulik tells me of her life in Soho and The Society Club: her distinctively elusive Bohemian bookshop/private members’ club.

Babette protests that she is something of a mongrel. She was born to a Spanish mother and a South-American father who originated from Uruguay, so seemingly to call her a mongrel is fitting. Having been born and raised in London, her first memories of Soho date back to when she was just six. “We used to go every week to Berwick Street market for fruit and vegetables, and then of course trips to the delicatessens in the area which used to be a lot more than now. Back in those days, Soho was the bastion of hard to get imported goods such as olive oil. The like was not available in the supermarkets, only in the high-end department stores like Fortnums and Harrods but, of course, Soho was a lot cheaper,” she explains of her childhood.

Though, as a youngster, Babette saw grocery shopping to be quite the bore. Looking back on it now she recalls the happy bustle of the Berwick Street Market, which at the time was on both sides of the street that has been narrowed down to a small stretch at the base of the road. “The gorgeous smells I remember particularly, they permeated the air as you passed the delicatessens and the coffee shops,” Babette reminisces. Babette has lived in Westminster all of her life, and Soho has been her home for the last 15 years. “Soho is a place where you can just be who you are, where the actual individual is of importance not the nonsense that is so much part of society.” Today she has come to see a change in the area. She feels that, where the creativity once oozed out from every crack on every pavement and every street, it has lessened so today. “Though don’t get me wrong, it is still here but not in such abundance. I remember how crossing Regent Street into Soho, and how instantly the air would change and crackle with just fabulousness,” she explains.

Most of all that intrigues me about Babette is The Society Club and its origin, and indeed its invention – how does one come to cross the concept of a bookshop and a private members club? Though perhaps not entirely the cause, the story of The Society Club began with the death of a close friend, Sebastian Horsley who died of an overdose. “With the death of Sebastian it somehow just made sense. I never set out to create anything intentionally, I just wanted to sell books and publish books,” Babette tells to me. The bookshop itself stocks an array of rare first editions, with a bar at its centre and a gallery in the basement. The bookshelves are made of explicit, often sexually charged books from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin, to Ken Loach Portraits of People in the Sexploitation Industry. “Essentially, the books we stock here are books that we like, though generally we do have a tendency to concentrate mainly on 20th century literature and some of the more cult classics,” I am told of the selection.

Babette is simply bleeding with character; an intriguing and familiar persona of the Soho neighbourhood. Her charm is uneasy to avoid; alluring and captivating, along with her wonderful array of dogs that walk in her shadow. Though, in contrast, Babette is beautiful and equally sharp, intelligent and wise. She is witty with a hint of mystery, with a seemingly black and white no-bullshit approach to every element of her life. Her taste for irony and wit is applied carefully to the year in which The Society Club were established; 1927, 1957 or 2011? “It’s for irony really, so sad that we thought it’d be funny at the time, it just sounds so much better than 2011 but I think the next date will be 1977, I liked that year,” She laughs.

The Society Club strikes me as a home for the Bohemian, a place where creatives thrive. “I hoped when starting out that it would be a home from home for artist writers and the like, thus Bohemian. There are so many stories from over the years and are usually about our incompetence.” Her stance confirming that this feeling is indeed not of coincidence. With her passion for Soho undying, Babette intends to live out her life here forevermore. Despite the various changes occurring in the Soho neighbourhood today; from the ever-shrinking Berwick Street Market, through to overdevelopment and the fall of Denmark Street, what feels to represent Soho still remains strong in her heart. With her array of dogs in tow, she intends for The Society Club to only grow stronger and stronger with time, and perhaps another dog or so.

Weighty Expression

Weighty Expression


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Soho has long been a hub of creativity. Poets, writers, artists, designers, musicians, have often found inspiration and also commiserated on the streets of Soho. Although the area was, in the 17th century, famous for green hunting grounds favoured by aristocrats, towards the 18th century, grand houses replaced them and became venues for parties attended by the trendiest and most fashionable of London’s elite. Much of Soho’s character that we see today stems partly from the neglect by rich and fashionable London, and the lack of redevelopment that characterised the neighbouring areas. As the mid-19th century approached, all respectable families had moved away, and prostitutes, music halls and small theatres had moved in. At the start of the 20th century, foreign nationals opened cheap eating establishments and the neighbourhood became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists. By the early 1960s, the Soho pub landlords established themselves and since the 1980s, the area has undergone considerable transformation, housing upmarket restaurants and media offices, with only a small remnant of sex industry venues.

The vibrancy and diversity of Soho is nowhere better summed up than in the street art titled The Spirit of Soho. The scenes depicted in this mural are timeless and are no less relevant and symbolic of present day Soho than they were of the area through the 20th century. It was created in 1991 by the Soho community – coordinated by Free Form Arts Trust, who designed and executed the work, and Alternative Arts, who coordinated the workshops and public programme that went alongside – and shows Soho life and its people.

Standing on the Corner of Broadwick and Carnaby Streets, the viewer looks up at the towering flame-haired St Anne presiding over local notables. St Anne is patroness of unmarried women, housewives, women in labour, grandmothers, horseback riders and cabinet-makers. Due to the mural’s location and the surrounding narrow streets, the viewer is forced to examine it up close. St Anne carries a distracted expression on her face as she lifts her lace, fruit-hemmed skirt and petticoats to reveal the map of Soho and the hum of activity composed of craftsmen and London landmarks. Shaftesbury Avenue and the theatres along it are pictured on her skirt, as is Oxford Street and a little panel dedicated to China Town with a host of pubs, restaurants and an abundance of vegetables and fruits. Books and magazines are also carved into her skirt to pay tribute to the writing and publishing industries so prolific in Soho, alongside the film makers, textile traders, recording studios and musical instrument makers.

Look closer and the level of details expands. On either side of the main piece are six scenes representing a film animator in his studio (possibly Bob Godfrey), the rag trade, food and international restaurants, the Palladium, Carnaby Street and Ronnie Scott’s. A green border at the bottom includes pictures of Soho parish school, a Willow Pattern dish and Soho Street Theatre – presented by Alternative Arts.  Dogs and hares are interspersed which hark back to the days when Soho was a Royal hunting ground. In the frame, along the bottom edge, sit blue plaques honouring Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme, Sponsored by City of Westminster, Goldsmiths & silversmiths, Gunmakers, Jewellers & clockmakers, Furniture & woodworkers, Engravers and Science & medicine.

This beautiful mural was restored in 2006 by Shaftesbury PLC and The Soho Society and the clock was re-activated by The Lord Mayor of Westminster 19th October 2006. A whimsical addition is the clock striking on the hour. The actress and opera singer Theresa Cornelys winks at Casanova, Casanova blows a series of kisses to Cornelys and Karl Marx takes a sip of Coca Cola. How wonderful for all those who were involved in the creation to be able to walk past this piece of public art and smile and say, ‘I was part of it’. It allows the people of Soho to leave their mark and make a difference. Spirit of Soho adds vitality and colour to the neighbourhood walls. In comparison to graffiti, another type of street art, which is often made in minutes, this permanent mural is very much a testament to street art that enhances the ideas of commitment, community and collaboration.

Broadwick Street has played host to more recent and immediate street art. On the same spot where Banksy painted Kissing Cops, Paul Insect, a UK street artist, has painted a seal sitting on a coloured stool admiring himself in a handheld mirror. He wears a pink ruffled collar and sleeves and yellow jester-like shoes. Behind him lies a red and yellow-starred hat and a hat.

Insect is known for his provoking images, often depicting the frustrations of the modern man. In Western art, there is little or no reference to the meaning of seals. However, in Native American art, the seal stands for contentment, inquisitiveness and organisation. The image could represent the many street artists who perform in Soho; the seal looks like a court jester or circus performer. Here the seal perhaps is taking a break from performing and is admiring himself or maybe checking his face paint. Paul Insect is most famous for his 2007 solo show Bullion exhibition at London’s Art gallery, Lazarides Gallery. Damien Hirst is reported to be a fan, having purchased the show days before it opened. The street artist also goes by the name of PINS and has worked alongside Banksy at the Cans Festival and on the separation wall in Palestine. Sadly, the street art has been since whitewashed leaving a blank canvas.

One of the most recent street art is on the front wall of The Face Clinic and SoHo SKiN on Silver Place. It shows Pegasus’s latest artwork depicting Marilyn Monroe in a swimsuit adorned with stars and stripes and a pair of converse. Discussing his work, Pegasus said, ‘You’ve never seen Marilyn in a pair of Converse before’ said Pegasus, before going to on to explain how his work is centred on playing with the conventional and expected images of certain pop culture celebrities. His previous works include Cher with a David Bowie lightning flash on her face, Angelina Jolie dressed as Wonder Woman and The Queen poised as a young starlet. Often his images capture the sad and the inspiring simultaneously and there is often a strength behind the eyes of these women that evokes poignancy. Since her arrival, Marilyn has caused quite a stir on Silver Place with residents and local business’s coming round to see her and passers-by taking photographs.

Permanent or temporary, street art is a way of expression. As the development of Soho strides forward and the bohemian and creative character begins to fade, street art is still abound. Graffiti will change and as quickly as it appears, just as fast is the whitewash that covers it. Twenty four years later, St Anne still overlooks this enclave of the West End, in Spirit of Soho. Let us hope she continues to preside over for another quarter century.

Home for the lost

Home for the lost


Words Ezra Axelrod

Portraits Astrid Schulz


“It was an environment of pure excitement and a universal sense of defiance…”

Coming to Soho after graduating university in rural Vermont — where my partner and I had grown accustomed to us being “the only gays in the village” — we found ourselves hypnotised by the parade of out-gay men that poured from every corner. As we started fumbling our way into adult lives, Soho took us in like two stray puppies. It all started with Castro, the sexy personal trainer at Jubilee Hall, who said he was looking for flatmates. With weak knees I frantically dialled my hubby, and three days later we were living with Castro and his Brazilian boyfriend at 72 Old Compton Street. The four of us hardly fit in the one-bed-turned-two-bed flat, eating dinners on the floor of the entrance hall and clambering over each other for the daily peep show of male escorts in the flats across the street. Here, I observed a neighbourhood that celebrated its history of hedonism and tolerance while constantly reinventing itself; a fast-paced mishmash of bohemian legends and capitalist exploits. The neighbourhood’s energy is a beacon for gay men around the world, who flock here in search of community, sex, intimacy and ambition.

Clayton Littlewood’s partying days might be over, but the wide-eyed awe that led him from Weston-upon-Mare to Soho at the age of 19 remains. He came in search of the enticing underground world of dive bars and misfits, described by his idol Marc Almond on Soft Cell’s 1981 classic Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. “He was so flamboyant and committed to being himself. I knew that if Marc Almond lived in Soho, I wanted to be there too,” Clayton tells me over coffee and macaroons. In the early ‘80s, Clayton’s main priority was making enough money to afford going out. He cleaned the Apollo Theatre in Victoria by day and frequented the clubs of Soho by night. In Soho, Clayton felt part of a tribe of people just like him, all misfits carving out a place for themselves in which to assert their gay identities. “It was an environment of pure excitement and a universal sense of defiance.”

Today, Clayton is best known for his book Dirty White Boy, a chronicle of Soho’s eccentrics as witnessed from behind the counter of his eponymous shop on the corner of Old Compton and Dean Street, catering to gays but attracting an endless cast of characters. From politicians to pimps, no one is spared in Clayton’s account. In the tradition of Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp, and Clayton’s dear friend Sebastian Horsley, Dirty White Boy celebrates Soho for being a unique melting pot of classes, sexualities, tastes, and everything in between. The shop lasted for two years on a corner of Soho that has seen a slew of ventures come and go. Although Clayton has nothing but gratitude for Soho, he details how he hit “rock bottom” when his shop’s collapse bankrupted him. This moment of Soho-induced desperation catalysed self-discovery, propelling Clayton into a career as a writer. He bemoans how often the press ask him to comment on the demise of hedonist Soho as though he were some sort of Grim Reaper. Despite the incessant change, one can’t help but feel that the history captured by Clayton transcends economics that Soho will continue to be the stage on which gay men from around the world chase their ambitions, confront their baggage, and reinvent themselves.

For David Stuart, Substance Use Lead at Soho’s landmark 56 Dean Street Clinic, that process of reinvention started 28 years ago, when he found himself working as an escort, addicted to hard drugs, and diagnosed with HIV. David is direct and open about his past in order to contextualise his current role as a public health professional. Originally from Australia, David’s adolescence in his new home crashed head-on with the AIDS epidemic, a time scarred by premature funerals, a media offensive against gays, and a morbid fear of sex. “You would be lying in bed with a partner thinking to yourself: AIDS, AIDS, AIDS,” David recalls. David eventually found an opportunity to volunteer for the Turning Point charity, supporting homeless heroin and crack users, which gave him focus, sobriety, purpose, and a full-time career. Since 56 Dean Street opened five years ago, David has seen it become a kind of de facto LGBT community centre in the heart of Soho. Through his work there, David is dedicated to helping gay men develop the tools necessary to build healthy relationships and habits, in sex and substance use. “What we might have failed to do during the 30 years of the AIDS epidemic is communicate what good sexual and mental wellbeing is,” David reflects, “that sex can be a fundamental part of forming fulfilling relationships.”

David is concerned that today’s gay community suffers a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, making decisions out of the fear inculcated during the fight against AIDS as opposed to studied self-awareness. He sees a new generation of young gays equipped with a plethora of sex-facilitating apps, but without any frame of reference for how to navigate this space. “In school, did that kid learn to understand his sexual desire and how to incorporate his emotional needs into that?” David hopes that programmes like Dean Street Wellbeing will serve as a backbone for the gay community in London, and foster a wider conversation about how to live a happy, healthy life as a gay man.

As dusk falls on Soho, 22-year-old Glaswegian Tom Legatt skirts the timeless throng of pint-guzzling bears in front of Compton’s. He takes a left at Frith Street and disappears through the stage door of the Prince Edward Theatre, where he works as an assistant stage manager on Miss Saigon. “I think parents have a sixth sense when their kids are gay, because mine constantly bought me musical theatre CDs throughout childhood,” Tom recalls. Although, as a teen in Glasgow, Tom dabbled with the idea of becoming a lawyer, he applied to the Guildhall and moved to London to complete a degree in stage management at the age of 17. His career since could only be described as a theatre-buff’s dream. Armed with a lawyer’s attention to detail, he has been part of some the world’s most prestigious stage management teams, including those for the London 2012 ceremonies, Sochi, Les Misérables and now Miss Saigon.

As Tom tells me about his professional highlights, I note that he seems to have his life sorted. He chuckles and says, “Come back in a few years, and maybe I’ll be a washed up mess.” Although easy to dismiss as a self-effacing comment, Tom is aware of how quickly circumstance can change, especially in the fast-paced world of lust and ambition that is Soho — a theme echoed by Clayton and David. Although struggle and transformation take different forms for the men who come here, they seem to be an inevitable fate. I ask Tom if he feels like working in Soho has changed him. “Definitely,” he says, “I’ve started going to a personal trainer. I just can’t be this skinny here…” Tom is referring to a preference for six packs and biceps that permeates the neighbourhood. In the windows of clothes stores, sex shops and clubs throughout Soho, models display statuesque bodies with bursting packages and gravity-defying bums; a fantasy aesthetic that many gay men work hard to achieve.

To be a young gay in Soho is to encounter a world where for centuries fantasy and reality have seamlessly collided. Like Tom, Damian Yanes came to London with a tireless work ethic and determination, qualities that saw him moving through job promotions at Wahaca, Ku Bar and the now defunct Manbar. He was set on leaving behind the tumult of his life back home in the Canary Islands, but he never dreamed that soon he would be rechristened as the porn actor Damian Gomez. Reflecting on his relationship to sex, he recounts how he lost his virginity at the age of 12 when a classmate followed him to the toilet. With age his sexual thirst only grew: “I loved that I was young and small, but could take control of men with my gaze,” says Damian, reminiscing in graphic detail about his adolescent conquests. Longing for intimacy and connection in London, he eventually started dating a man he met on Grindr, only to discover he was the porn actor Rio Silver. “In the beginning, I was jealous, but I learned to accept it.” Part of accepting his boyfriend was watching his films, an experience Damian calls “arousing.” Although Damian says that acting in porn had never interested him as a profession, soon after breaking up with Rio he went online and submitted applications to porn producers. “They responded immediately, it was so easy! I had an open mind, and I thought it would be an experience,” Damian says. A year later, he’s completed 10 film shoots, a whirlwind he finds hard to fathom. “I thought that acting in porn would consist of doing the shoot. I never could have imagined the fans, the trips, the parties, the freebies, the interviews.” I ask Damian whether he’s found intimacy in his new career. “Yes, strangely enough, even with the lights and the crew, sometimes there’s such an intense connection with your partner on set.” Damian felt especially close to Rocco Steele, an actor of 25cm fame with whom he filmed Daddy’s Boy. For now, Damian seems content to be single, feverishly working at establishing himself as a seasoned porn actor. In the future, he’d like to become a Soho restaurateur, but he’s keeping the concept of his debut eatery a secret so that no one copies it.

Millionaire financier turned conservative politician Ivan Massow feels that the kind of entrepreneurialism that lights up Damian’s eyes is typical of the gay men who frequent Soho. I meet Ivan as he prepares his bid for Mayor of London. The 47-year-old is eager to see more of his gay brothers “come out as conservative,” a typically bold statement from Ivan that incites rage from commentators quick to remind the electorate of the Tories’ record on gay rights. But Ivan persists. “If you were to break down what most gay people are, they are actually quite conservative: they’re keen on small government and owning their home; they want as few regulations as possible and don’t want state interference in their personal lives. Most of those are pretty conservative values.” His conservatism is a by-product of a life in which he says he was left to fend for himself. After a childhood in foster care, as a late teen he landed a job at an insurance company in Bristol, discovering a “good old boys’ club” that translated AIDS-fuelled homophobia into a policy that denied gays access to insurance or charged them 600% more than what straight people paid. Seeing a socially conscious business opportunity, Ivan moved to London in 1990 to open Massow Financial Services, providing the gay community with otherwise unavailable insurance and mortgages at competitive prices. Seven years later, Ivan was a high-rolling poster-boy for the gay rights movement, with an office and flat in Soho. His meteoric rise came with a price tag. His conservative politics jarred with gay activists, who, Ivan says, accused him of ‘cosying up to the enemy.’ “I was trying to convert the Tories from within so that they weren’t an enemy,” Ivan states, in defence of his party affiliation.

After a series of unsuccessful business mergers, an ugly lawsuit, the suicide of his boyfriend, and a struggle with alcoholism, Ivan hit rock bottom against the familiar boom and bust backdrop of Soho. Emerging from rehab in 2009 with a new sense of direction, he has since managed to build and sell a new business and re-launch his political career. He now has his eye on Boris Johnson’s baton in 2016. And, if his Instagram account is anything to judge by, his life today reads like a bourgeois fantasy: travelling the world, horseback riding, art galleries. Among the collection is the odd selfie of Ivan looking chiselled and happy, a resilient gaze fixed on the horizon.

It is here in this neighbourhood that gay men from around the world converge in pursuit of their ambition, so often face their downfall, and ultimately find purpose. Soho is the ever-changing, thumping heart of the world’s greatest city, and whatever becomes of it, I have no doubt that it will be immortalised in the folklore of gay men around the world for generations to come.

Ageless & Bold

Ageless & Bold


Words Peter McSweeney

Illustrations Luke Stuart


Here is a low down on some of the faces of Soho over the years. All connected to Soho is many different ways, mostly legal. They represent the creative, edgy vibe that Soho brings to The West End. They are Artists, and all are unique with their defined identity. You don’t have to love them (some you’re not meant to) but they are have contributed to the rich culture and help to start new trends which were born on these streets.

 

– David Bowie –

 

Turned down a knighthood, had a hit TV show names after one of his songs and humiliated Rick Gervais in Extras for being a ‘Silly Little Fat Man’, David Bowie proves he is more than your typical Music Legend, he is also a Soho Legend. An over used term by stupid media who lack imagination but in this case it is more than appropriate. The Marquee Club (now no longer) was where he built a fan base appealing to both sexes and what ever side you batting for didn’t matter, Bowie was the man! He drank in The Ship and his fashion and style was developed by vintage cast off on Carnaby Street, not to mention he would rub shoulders with The Krays.  Sir David, as he would have been known had he accepted the call of the Queen, might not have had such an authentic Soho feel.

Mandana Ruane

Mandana Ruane


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“There is a lot to be said for knowing where the trouble and the danger lie in a city – knowing when to cross the road. The suburbs hide their dangers whereas, in Soho, it comes neon-signed.”

There goes a rumour about the paving stones of Lexington Street beyond the wailing of the John Snow pub which, incidentally, is paired with writing. The rumour goes that, above the Andrew Edmonds restaurant there is a well-kept secret. Mandana Ruane tells of The Academy, one of Soho’s last remaining writers’ clubs and her time in Soho.

Having been in England for only a year after fleeing the 1976 revolution in Iran, Mandana first came to Soho as a sixteen year old schoolgirl. Soho immediately felt like home to her in a way no other country, city, or part, had previously. “Soho and I recognised each other and so a lifetime love affair began,” she explains. This love affair started quite appropriately at the renowned French House pub. A friend had been introduced to it in the week before by her utterly glamorous father, the painter Tim Behrens. Mandana and her friend, Fan, returned to the pub on one of a semi-legal excursion after free-range boarding school. “It was very Heaven. Walking into the French felt like crashing a cocktail party that had been going on for decades. And what a party: here were people from every walk of life; some rich or poor, some posh or tramps. Yet everyone spoke to each other and treated each other on their own merits. On a Saturday morning, there were soap stars and writers, pornographers and minor aristos, Getty’s drug dealer and ad-men, all quaffing halves of George Goulet champagne before doing the weekend shop in the market and Camisa’s. When the pub shut at 3, everyone would peel off to do the rounds of the numerous afternoon drinking clubs, up and down rickety staircases. It was an Education,” Mandana explains.

At such a young age, Mandana found herself being educated as to how to negotiate one’s way in the heart of a big city. She notes that, despite being London’s sin bin, Soho was – and remains – safe. “People look out for one another. There is a lot to be said for knowing where the trouble and the danger lie in a city – knowing when to cross the road. The suburbs hide their dangers whereas, in Soho it comes neon-signed,” she tells to me.

Mandana notes the coming of change in the Soho area during the past 30 years; some good, some bad. She thinks it lamentable to see the loss of many small businesses and workshops in favour of the rise of chain stores and chain restaurants. “30 years ago, men were shy of dining a deux together in all but a handful of bars and restaurants,” she says.

18 years ago, Mandana found herself standing in Andrew Edmunds’ print shop, a bag of legal files in one hand, the lead of her dog, Heathcliff, in the other. Andrew began to explain that he had been granted planning permission for the floor above the restaurant to be turned into a club. With the editor of The Literary Review Magazine, Auberon (Bron) Waugh, having asked Andrew to find a home for his then defunct club, the Academy, Andrew had put in an application having never expected it to be granted. “I had been a manager at a restaurant for eight years, but had recently decided to grow up by putting aside my childish husband and embarking upon a career in the law,” Mandana laughs to me. It was an idle fairy that overheard her in the Colony Room in 1981, wishing that one day she would live in Soho and have her own drinking den. Andrew approached Mandana about working with her.

Mandana replied to Andrew that next morning; “I know how we’ll do it. You can’t just be landlord to the club; you’ll have to be proprietor. And I know the way Soho clubs work and how these buildings and the restaurants work, so I’ll have to make the club with you.” This exchange marked the start of a beautiful partnership. Andrew, a man who usually takes several weeks to decide on the shape of a light bulb, said yes. Thus the Academy was reborn, with Bron as the Glamour, Andrew as the Capitalist and Mandana as the Workforce. The Academy opened its doors nine months after their initial conversation.

The club’s membership was to comprise of “writers and their friends” – a remit broad enough to allow for just about anyone with whom staff fell in love with or were tickled by. “Running a club is very much like cooking with people. Some flavours – though delightful in themselves – might not add to the overall goulash and, in a room as small as ours, care must be taken,” she explains on The Academy.

In her early years at the club, Mandana formed a marvellous alliance and friendship with Rowan Pelling, the then editrice of The Erotic Review magazine, who would find suitable candidates for membership, Mandana would reciprocate this service by providing contributors to her magazine. “I would defy anyone to spot the difference between writers for the Erotic and Literary Reviews: in truth, they were the same. The Erotic Review lunches at the Academy were everything one could wish for: a serving General squashed on the banquette in between the infamous rake, Sebastian Horsley, and the former mistress of a cabinet minister. In the interest of club discretion, I cannot say more…” Mandana explains.

Today, Soho’s drinking dens with real wit and a pulse are terribly thin on the ground. This Academy possesses something of a time-machine aspect. It is easy for one to be swiftly swept away from the outer-workings of Soho into this media-friendly watering hole in which true creatives are able to thrive, with each and every character that lurks about this place a decidedly fitting fictional character. These characters count themselves among the fortunate. They alone know of this hidden preservation of creativity in the setting of an 18th century room, dotted with well-read books.

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery


Words Jonathan Velardi

Photography Kate Elliott


“Our overall mission is to inspire and inform audiences to enjoy, understand and discover their own point of view about photography.”

On a narrow aperture between Oxford Street and Great Marlborough Street in the West End stands the capital’s only public gallery dedicated to photography. For over four decades, The Photographers’ Gallery has been devoted to its namesake medium in promoting photography as an artistic equal together with its vital role as a social and historical document.

Since its founding in 1971, in a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar at No. 8 Great Newport Street, in Covent Garden, the gallery has established itself as an international leader for photographic practices across the worlds of art and journalism. Works by the New York-based Hungarian photojournalist, Cornell Capa, inaugurated its exhibition programme with a series entitled ‘The Concerned Photographer’, depicting humanitarian subject matter from around the world. The exhibition’s success of shining light on photography’s ability to educate and empower, as well as to report, subsequently propelled the gallery’s relevance as a new centre worthy of critical attention. Its contextual concern for innovative photographers and the promotion of both British and global emerging talent is a mission maintained to this day.

“We have always been known for the diversity of photography we show,” says Brett Rogers OBE, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery. “Our overall mission is to inspire and inform audiences to enjoy, understand and discover their own point of view about photography.” Rogers, who was appointed director in 2005, navigated the gallery through its most ambitious transformation between 2010 and 2012. Recognising the changing times of gallery operations and visitor expectations, the gallery finalised plans to upgrade from its understated Covent Garden address and relocate to a more prominent residence in Soho with all the trimmings of a twenty-first century London attraction.

While Soho has long been the go-to entertainment quarter for London’s elite from as early as the eighteenth-century, the area’s rich artistic identity had begun to blur, and it endured somewhat of a depression at the turn of the century, with temptations of affordability and white cube aesthetics from the East. It was only a matter of time however, on the roulette of postcode trends, for Soho’s image to come into focus once more as the city’s cultural epicentre. With emerging creative industries flourishing to its North in Fitzrovia and treasured institutional landmarks to its South along Piccadilly, The Photographers’ Gallery chose the northern side of Soho as its new home. Embedding itself in the ‘world’s most creative square mile’ was important, explains Rogers, in understanding photography’s natural relationship with the area’s creative industries of advertising, digital effects and fashion. Appropriately, a fashion warehouse dating from 1910 was chosen as the site of the new gallery on Ramillies Street – a genuine article London backstreet that had retained its bygone attributes and had long demanded pedestrians to forgo their senses for the sake of a short cut to the more tranquil pace of Great Marlborough Street. Today, Ramillies Street is very much a modern backstreet worthy of attention from the naked eye or camera phones alike. What was once an overlooked side street is now decorated with the gallery’s minimalist lines of glass and iron interventions onto the building’s original brick façade, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey, which encase galleries, education facilities, a café and destination bookshop over five floors.

Since The Photographers’ Gallery reopened in 2012, the art world’s compass has been pointing west – a strong signal for the capital’s cultural tide with a steady rise of investment in the City of Westminster concentrated around Soho, Fitzrovia and Mayfair – a message that has not gone unnoticed by the commercial gallery sector. With Jay Joplin’s monumental return to St. James’ in 2006, with White Cube Mason’s Yard, it was the beginning of an influx of both native and international contemporary galleries with an appetite for a West End address. 2010 saw the re-launch of Hauser & Wirth on Saville Row; a former nightclub on Kingly Street was chosen for a new Sadie Coles HQ space, and a Dover Street Georgian townhouse for New York gallery David Zwirner in 2013. Even Victoria Miro – one of the leading figures in diverting the art world’s gaze away from Cork Street to the East End with her eponymous gallery on Wharf Road – returned to the West with a secondary location on St George Street in the same year. 2014 marked Phillips auction house’s retirement from Victoria to occupy its distinguished headquarters on Berkeley Square, and welcomed influential art dealer Marian Goodman to the capital with her very first London outpost off Soho’s Golden Square. In addition to a new Gagosian Gallery due to open on Grosvenor Hill later this year, the West End is experiencing a healthy renaissance with maximum exposure.

The Photographers’ Gallery’s influence to date has been a force amongst the network of contemporary galleries that surround it. For many of the photographers, who had exhibited at the gallery early on in their careers, commercial gallery representation soon followed, with a subsequent acceptance into the art world – a notable shift for the medium’s regard since the ‘70s. “Over the 44 years of the gallery’s existence, there have been a host of outstanding shows; we were the first in the UK to show celebrated photographers such as Walker Evans, David Bailey and the iconic Jacques Henri Lartigue in the 1970s, and Rineke Dijkstr and Andreas Gursky in the ‘90s,” explains Rogers. Gursky, a recipient of the gallery’s prestigious annual international photography Prize in 1998, held the record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction at £2.7 million until last year – only to be eclipsed by Peter Lik whose work exchanged privately for over £4 million. Not only had Gursky’s ‘Rhein II’ earned recognition for the medium’s confidence in execution and scale that had challenged painting’s supremacy, the public attention of such a feat projected photography’s regard and accessibility in one flash. The legitimacy of photography as high art form was nevermore to be questioned.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, which has featured the most outstanding figures in contemporary photography, including Richard Billingham, Juergen Teller, Adam Broomberg, and Oliver Chanarin and John Stezaker, is only one of many highlights in the gallery’s exhibitions calendar. Emerging talent is one such subject Rogers specifies the gallery is committed to showcase. “Whether it’s young British photographers, whom we present in our annual FreshFaced+WildEyed exhibition, or in introducing international photographers not yet seen in the UK, such as Jim Goldberg, Taryn Simon, Kay Grannan, Sara Facio, Laura Letinsky and Clare Aho.” Along with a dynamic curatorial interest for analogue and digital processes between the styles of photojournalism, fashion, documentary and the conceptual, modern and contemporary artists who are not primarily known for their photographic practices – Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, David Lynch – to those who work between film and photography, such as Rags Media Collective and Charlotte Dumas, are introduced within a context that promotes the limitless nature of photography, past and present.

A camera obscura installed on the third floor of the gallery grounds, the medium’s genealogy in the face of society’s evolving relationship with the Internet. Rogers is conscious of the digital spectrum photography now plays such a significant role in: from screen-based photo-sharing applications and social media, to the latest facial recognition software being explored by contemporary artists that is revolutionising the face of traditional portraiture. “We remain committed to exploring where the medium is going, both through the shows in the gallery and our digital programme on the Media Wall.” Above all, Rogers is keen to deliver stimulating initiatives within the public realm and capitalize on Soho’s rich history as well as its creative future, viewing The Photographers’ Gallery at the core of this revitalised quarter.

Soho Grind

Soho Grind


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Manu Zafra


A summer morning, the sun shines on London. Kept cool by the tall buildings opposite on Beak Street a friendly welcome and smile set the tone. It’s going to be a great day. Exit through the Soho Grind. Sit in the picture window and watch Soho come to life.

“Soho Grind opened on May 2nd, 2014, in somewhere that we wanted to be. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Before we arrived, the building sold porcelain dolls, but we only know that because some rather peculiar-looking people have come asking about it.”

A supreme cappuccino kick starts the day. A few suits have jumped over from the hedge funds of Mayfair and tradesmen with calls nearby are clustered round the door: the barista, as good with the pleasantries as pouring a perfect coffee. The white brick wall interior, large jugs of water, cucumber, orange or lemon added, wait to be poured into beatnik glasses. Green touches high along one wall on shelves above a row of brass mirrors. The atmosphere is cool and fresh, and a summer breeze wafts in the open door.

“We’ve always found that the best staff find us. There’s a long culture of Aussies and Kiwis coming to the UK with two-year visas. We’re lucky to have built up enough of a reputation that they find their way to us. We’ve had a few baristas that have been pulling shots for us at the Grind having come through Heathrow arrivals the same morning.”

A red neon Espresso Bar sign hangs low in the window: ‘The Soho Grind’ in red, subtitles in black, ‘Coffee, Sex and Rock and Roll’ reads the cinema style hoarding. Inside though, it’s relaxed the music mellow, no drama. Except that one time the coffee exploded over the stressed out businessman.

Mid-morning; back at The Soho Grind. The croissants are freshly baked, plain, ham and cheese, just enough between breakfast and lunch. Out in Beak Street, the traffic is busier, a remarkable number of white vans pass the window. The door is shut now. Sit along the wall at the dark wood shelf that runs on the opposite wall from the counter. The custom stools, metal framed with Soho Grind built in to the struts. Round caramel padded discs to park on. A free magazine to glance through while you eat, and sip another cappuccino. In the window, Creative’s discuss projects, beards optional, this is Soho. Expensive jackets, trainers, and sweatshirts compulsory. They come and go, male and female two’s and three’s. Open laptops, overheard words occasionally. Investment, development, projects, apps, shoots, release dates, Soho’s media village coffee stop: A steady flow; never too busy.

“Our designer is based in Melbourne and all the stools and light-fittings were designed and made bespoke there, before being sent around the world to us in Soho.” As it gets near mid-day, the sun, high in the sky beats in the large window. Early bird Asians start congregating and queuing out on the narrow pavement for meat, a lunch table inside, next door at Flat Iron. At The Soho Grind the red, white and green filled ciabattas are being stacked up on the counter: Mozzarella, Tomato, Pesto. Bowls of healthy salads are being brought up from downstairs. Italian tourist families in Belstaff jackets glance in the window, peer up at the sign, walk back to the door and decide not to come in.

I first encountered the Grind at Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, East London. Ignored by a directional Emo Phillips haircut in skinny jeans for what felt like 10 mins. After curt service, eventually the coffee was good. The Holborn Grind was more business-like, busy and straightforward, no quirks, like the area it sits in. The Soho Grind was cool, and drew me back. It became a regular spot.

By lunchtime it’s as busy as it can be. Lucky to find a stool. It’s a hustle and bustle as friends and colleagues meet and eat. Quickly, conversations, start and stop, change subject, and leave. The tempo of the music has picked up, wonky house, abstract but still in the key of calm.

Early afternoon, late lunch, most of the sandwiches have gone, the stack depleted. Cold in the summer, but toasted in winter. Salami, rocket, mozzarella. In autumn afternoons the red neon glows inside. ‘French lessons given downstairs x’, reads the neon sign on the wall above the staircase. The small basement offers a cosy den for clandestine afternoon meetings out of sight, and holds a secret all of its own. In the 1960s, Soho was infamous for the ‘walk-ups’ to hidden brothels or strip clubs hidden away from the street. ‘French lessons given’ was a popular innuendo for marking these out.

Late afternoon, the last drop-in of the day, another caffeine hit, a flat white, and maybe one of the mini-cream filled croissants or chocolate filled little pastries. Unobtrusive, staff chat amongst themselves, surprisingly focused, it’s about work. Sometimes they talk about travels, places they’ve been, where they’re from, where they’re going. Music volume rises as the day unfolds, a bit of reggae, some hip-hop beats, and a raggle taggle of Libertines. It gets lively, but it never gets too loud. Opposite in the street, an “agency” photographer appears with an overdressed, aspiring “model”. No qualms about posing suggestively in a Soho doorway. “In the last few years, we’re seeing more and more UK-born baristas. Our Head of Coffee, Sam, was born in the UK now he trains and certifies all our baristas to the Grind standard.”

Pass in the early evening; it’s still open, bathed in the red of Soho’s night lights. Smiling faces sit in the window, young girls laughing looking forward. Blonde hair, red lips and black hats. First stop for nocturnal Soho night birds. Exit the Daily Grind.

Then later one night, everything changed. The rain made the streets of Golden Square shine. Only just visible, as I headed up Lower James Street, was the familiar red glow. As I got nearer I could see the bulbs suspended on black wires, their fast scratch, visible elements contrasting against the red which bathed the rectangular room. White flames on candles in old crystal chimed with the lights. A metal tray turned over and propped up, in the window. Written on it opening hours I had never noticed before: “7.30 am- 11.30pm” and “Cocktails and Tapas“.

“You’re not normally open this late are you?” I asked the late shift. The new and different staff now, unfamiliar, who all wore white shirts: “Just since we opened the cocktail bar downstairs.” Was the answer that surprised me as I ordered a mocha, thick and sweet, small but filling. I glanced along the bar at Iberico Ham, bowls of green olives, and a tub of beer bottles on ice. Cool I thought but not what I was expecting.

“In the evening: a menu of traditional aperitif and cold meats, alongside some more modern dishes of our own, an after-work espresso – and an escape from the bustle of central London nightlife.” The atmosphere still felt the same upstairs and looking round everyone was still drinking coffee. I take a mental note in my mind’s notebook to drop back when night manoeuvres are on the agenda. I stand up, drink up, zip up my Jacket as I exit through the Soho Grind.